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Driven to distraction: Mobile phones a growing road safety threat

Published on 10 December 2021
Mobile phones have made it easy for us to stay connected on the go, but the ever-developing technology hasn’t come without its fair share of hazards. Addictions to instant messaging and social media has led to drivers with their phones glued to their hand even when behind the steering wheel.

It’s all too common to see drivers with their heads looking down at their lap while stopped at traffic lights or see their eyes flickering up and down when driving past. The Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) reports that 70 per cent of Queenslanders admit to having used a phone while driving at some point.

It seems many still don’t understand the dangers of such a distraction, even though studies prove distracted drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers.

Did you know distracted and inattentive drivers were the cause of 23 fatalities on Queensland roads last year, and 10 as of June 30 this year?

Recent media reports state that more than 1500 Queensland drivers were fined in the first week after the mobile phone detection camera warning period ended in November.

What are mobile phone detection cameras? How do mobile phone detection cameras work?

The cameras hidden around the state officially turned on in July with the three-month warning period ending last month. They use artificial intelligence to detect illegal mobile phone use and failure to wear a seatbelt.

During the initial six-month trial in 2020, more than 15,000 people were caught. And more than 21,000 warning letters were issued during the grace period, which would have totalled more than $20 million in fines if the penalties were enforced.

What are the risks of using a phone while driving?

On average, 29 people are killed and 1284 seriously injured each year in a car or road accident in Queensland where driver distraction played a part.

While distracted driving may be the lowest killer of the fatal five, with 8.3 per cent of all fatalities in 2020, studies have proven mobile phone distraction quadruples the risk of crashing. You’re more likely to swerve into other lanes, have shorter following distances and a longer reaction time. 

In fact, the Queensland StreetSmarts Initiative says by taking your eye off the road for even just two seconds at 60kmhr, you’ll travel more than 33m while distracted. And your reaction time can double or triple. As the saying goes, it only takes a split second for things to go south.

Note: Authorities believe the number of crashes involving driver distraction is much higher than what’s reported, but it’s difficult to prove that distraction plays a part in accidents if it isn’t admitted.

Laws about using phone behind the wheel

It’s abundantly clear that we’re not legally allowed to touch our phone when behind the wheel, but sometimes the exact rules can be unclear – did you know that you’re not allowed to have your phone sitting on your lap, even if it’s turned off?

How can you legally use your phone?

If you’re on your red P’s (P1) or a learner licence, you can’t use a phone while driving at all. This includes for navigation, calls on loudspeaker, hands-free, wireless headsets, or playing music through Bluetooth. Your passengers are also not allowed to use their phone on loudspeaker.

You can only use your phone in some capacity if you’re on your green P’s (P2) or an open licence. For example, you can:

  • Use maps or navigation apps, and make or receive calls hands-free while in a cradle
  • Hold your phone if you’re parked, in driveways and car parks
  • Use your phone while safely stopped, including to pay for food at a drive-thru
  • Hold your phone to show police a digital driver’s licence

But you must not touch the phone – you can only operate the phone using your voice. The same rules and penalties apply to bicycle riders.

What is the penalty for using a phone while driving?

From November 1, 2021, those caught using a phone illegally while driving will cop a $1033 fine and lose four demerit points.

Double demerit points apply for repeat offences committed within 12 months of each other. Learner drivers will lose their licence immediately.

If this penalty isn’t enough to help you kick the habit, think about the potential consequences. So, next time you’re behind the wheel and hear that notification ding, think to yourself: can it wait?

What to do if injured in a car or road accident by a distracted driver

As mobile phone use increasingly becomes a problem, the chances of being involved in a car or road accident with a distracted driver also increase.

If you are injured by the carelessness of another driver, you may be entitled to car or road accident compensation through CTP.

Find out more things you should know about CTP claims here.