Trials of new technology that NSW plans to implement to spot drivers illegally using their mobile phones have also captured motorists in 80-to-100km/h speed zones who are texting with both hands, eating, reading and using illegal drugs.
A man illegally using nitrous oxide (known as nanging) while driving down a highway at 100km/h was among those captured on camera in scans of about 100,000 drivers across Australia.
Another driver was seen texting with both hands, said Alex McCredie, the director of One Task, which conducted the tests. Others were snapped with both hands off the wheel and in the air, with pets in their laps or unrestrained, doing their makeup, and reaching for objects.
One Task’s surveillance found illegal mobile phone use was endemic, with between 5 and 7 per cent of drivers in every city using them while driving at high speeds.
Of all provisional (P plate) drivers caught on camera, 4 per cent to 6.2 per cent were seen to illegally using phones while driving. Under NSW road rules, learner and P1 drivers penalised for illegally using a mobile phone (four demerit points) will exceed their demerit point threshold and face a three-month licence suspension. P2 drivers will only have three demerit points remaining if they are caught illegally using a mobile phone.
While One Task spotted a range of distracting behaviours, “mobile phone use eclipsed all these”, Mr McCredie said.
A police officer had his foot amputated after Jakob Thornton allegedly crashed into him and a colleague while looking at his mobile phone.
“[Mobile phones] seem to be an obsession today, they’re new and society hasn’t quite figured out how to interact with phones and what place they should have in our lives,” he said.
Between 2012 to 2017, 184 crashes involved illegal mobile phone use, and resulted in seven deaths and 105 injuries.
The government and road safety experts say these figures vastly underestimate the use of mobile phones because of the difficulty of gathering evidence at crash scenes.
To reduce fatalities and injuries caused by mobile distraction, the NSW government this week passed changes to road legislation providing it surveillance powers to develop a system to crack down on deaths related to mobile phone use.
One Task, is among a range of companies that have expressed interest in tendering to provide the NSW with camera technology to detect drivers texting, talking and handling their phones.
But Mr McCredie is urging lawmakers to use data like his to identify which behaviours were the most dangerous and develop policies to educate the public. For example, eating was distracting, but not illegal.
NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the road rules require drivers to maintain proper control of a vehicle, and not drive without a clear view. NSW Police enforce these rules as well as mobile phone laws so “drivers should remain focused on the task of driving and avoid potential distraction from other tasks”.
Professor Ann Williamson, the director of road safety research Transport and Road Safety, agrees that mobile phones are a dangerous distraction, adding that the estimates of fatalities and injuries they caused are vastly under-reported. But she said that most drivers are sensible.
Other devices — such as inbuilt navigation systems and radios — were also a distraction yet they weren’t regulated.
“We can’t say one is dangerous and one is not. Both are dangerous,” said Professor Williamson.
More research is needed, and she’s currently reviewing thousands of hours of videos made of Australian drivers as part of a four-month driving study.
“Most of the time, it is not true to say that every time you are not looking you are unsafe,” she said. Unlike P-platers, most experienced drivers could drive safely and occasionally do other things like turn the radio on.
Mr McCredie said his technology could make it possible to increase the numbers of people fined for illegally using their phones by thousands every day, which would cause mayhem if many people lost their licences.
“You know if there are 100,000 people crossing the Harbour Bridge, it would be possible to catch 500 in breach of the law,” he said. Currently, police catch about 109 people a day using their mobile phones, but his technology could catch that many in less than an hour.
A fully licensed driver illegally using a mobile phone cops a $330 fine and four demerit points, and attracts double demerits during police blitzes.
How many drivers are caught on their phones now, and how long it would take to catch them under new laws
Some Comments from this Article – Mick Raven