Three people have lost their lives on the region’s roads in 10 months as a result of driver distraction, police say, but mobile phone use behind the wheel continues to rise, with young drivers especially common culprits.
Bendigo Highway Patrol Senior Sergeant Ian Brooks said he believed the number of people using their phones while driving was growing, despite the dangers involved.
In the past four weeks, Senior Sergeant Brooks said, a motorcycle patrol in the Bendigo and Campaspe Shire area had found 60 people using their phones while driving.
He said analysis of fatal crashes in the division’s range of central and northern Victoria found three deaths in the past 10 months involved driver distraction, whether it was from a mobile phone or a GPS device.
“People are just not paying credence to the risks involved,” he said, adding they did not appear to care about the hefty penalties attached.
Senior Sergeant Brooks said data showed drivers under the age of 30 were in the majority when it came to mobile phone offences, although police had caught motorists aged into their 70s.
“It’s a generational thing, it is a societal thing… It’s what they’ve grown up with,” he said of young drivers.
Samantha Cockfield, the Transport Accident Commission’s lead director for road safety, said the organisation’s research showed mobile phone use was most common among young drivers.
TAC research in 2017 found almost half of Victorians aged under 30 had used their phone while driving
“Young drivers have less experience on the roads and are therefore already more susceptible to crashes”, Ms Cockfield said.
“So it is important that they understand the risks of distracted driving and just put their phones away.”
Information from the TAC says crash risk doubles when a driver’s eyes leave the road for two seconds. At 50 km/h, a vehicle will travel 28 metres in that time.
Senior Sergeant Brooks said the risks of using a mobile phone were similar to having a blood alcohol limit above 0.05. “If you’re looking down at your phone, who’s driving?” he said.
Senior Sergeant Brooks said the community should be “disgusted” at the fact people continued to use phones while driving.
He said road safety was not the responsibility of enforcement authorities, but the whole community.
“Everyone needs to play,” he said.
Drivers found using a mobile phone or other device with a visual display (that is not a driver’s aid) will lose four demerit points and a $484 fine.
Learners, P1 and P2 drivers cannot use a phone for any purpose, whether it is hand-held or hands-free.
Fully licensed drivers can use a phone for calls and audio or music functions, provided it is in a commercially designed holder and can be operated without touch.
Use of a phone as a navigational device also requires that it is in a holder fixed to the vehicle.
The same rules apply to motorcycle riders, although fully licensed riders who have held their licence for less than three years must abide by the learner and provisional rules.
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