These days most of us have a very strong attachment to our phones, and the need to check notifications or look up information can be hard to resist. Most of the time, this is just a harmless habit of modern life, however, that all changes when we are driving.
The Australian Nation Crash In-Depth Study (ANCIS) found that using a mobile phone whilst driving makes you nearly four times more likely to be involved in a road collision because of the distraction it causes. It’s not just about taking your eyes off the road either, even if you are looking at the road, if your mind is more focused on what is happening on your phone, your ability to react to incidents is impaired.
It certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that almost all use of a mobile phone whilst driving is illegal in Australia. Penalties if you are caught breaking the law vary by each state and territory, but can be up to $1000 fine and 4 demerit points, and may be even more severe if you are involved in an incident as a result of being distracted by your mobile phone. It is also important to remember that many authorities will increase penalties during peak periods, such as holiday periods, in an attempt to further deter offenders.
If you are a driver on a full licence in Australia, there are certain circumstances under which you are allowed to use a mobile phone in the car, and it is important to know the strict restrictions around doing so. Firstly, the phone must be held in a cradle that is firmly affixed to your car, or it can be operated without touch. Even then, you can only use your phone to:
- Make or receive audio only phone calls
- Use audio functions, such as playing music
- Use it for navigation
That is it. All other mobile phone use, such as texting or checking notifications, is illegal.
What may catch many drivers out however, is that these rules do not just apply whilst actively driving. They still apply when the vehicle is stopped but not parked, for example, whilst waiting at a red light, so if you think that you are ok to quickly send that email whilst waiting in traffic, you’d be wrong.
The rules can also vary depending on the type of licence you have and where you are driving, so it is also important to know exactly how the law applies to you, especially if you are planning to drive interstate.
If you are someone that needs to use their phone whilst driving for the legal reasons listed above, here are some tips to help you avoid getting into trouble:
1. Get a good cradle
There are lots of different types of car cradle available. Look for one that fits firmly to your car and holds your phone securely. There are also cradles available that can wirelessly charge your phone, which may be a big advantage over leaving your phone in the glove box or storage tray.
2. Know the how the law applies to you BEFORE you drive Don’t get caught out by changes to the law or if you’re driving in a new state or territory. Check what you are and are not allowed to do before your drive and prepare accordingly.
3. Set up your navigation and audio before you start driving Most people do use their phones for directions and to listen to music or podcasts whilst driving, so just set this up when you first get in the car so you don’t need to touch your phone once you start driving
4. Use Hands-Free and voice commands instead of touching your phone Use technology that means you can avoid touching your phone at all whilst driving. Almost all modern phones have some form of voice control built into the phone, and most modern cars have hands free technology as well.
5. Use apps and tools that limit distracting notifications whilst driving Many phones have tools that allow you to temporarily pause notifications, such as ‘Android Auto’ and the ‘Focus’ tool on iPhones, which can help you avoid unnecessary distractions until you are safely able to receive them.