People want to use phones while driving and no one can stop them

Andrew Munro 30 October 2017 NEWS

shutterstock mobile phone while driving 738x410

The phones have won.

Recent years have seen a concerted crackdown on drivers using mobile phones behind the wheel, to almost no effect, says a new report from the Royal Automobile Association (RAA).

Sharper penalties, crackdowns and driver education programs have all been used in tandem to get drivers to put phones away, but after five years it looks like none of it has made a difference.

It's made so little difference that it's not even possible to gauge how many people use phones while driving based on police figures alone. The more resources police put into catching drivers using phones, the more they find.

12,363 mobile phone offences are detected each year on average, says RAA senior road safety manager Charles Mountain, but this number simply rises and falls based on how hard police look for them.

A clear example of this is South Australia's "Operation Distraction" campaigns. The only measurable impact of these is a shift in how many people are caught using their phones while driving.

"If Police had the resources to run Operation Distraction throughout the year, we expect we would get a more accurate representation of illegal phone use behind the wheel," Mountain explains.

Outside of Operation Distraction SA police detect an average of 713 mobile phone related driving offenses each month. During Operation Distraction this more than doubles, and increases by around 125% to a norm of about 1,600.

"Each time SA Police conduct Operation Distraction they highlight the severity of this problem, clearly showing motorists are not getting the message," said Mountain.

Everyone thinks it's dangerous, but no one cares

An RAA members' survey found that 99% said they felt that texting while driving increased their crash risk, while 87% said that talking on a phone while driving also increased the odds of an accident. Around 80% also agreed that it was still dangerous to use a phone while waiting at a red light.

Of course, most of those RAA members surveyed were probably getting their car insurance from RAA and might therefore just be giving "the right answer" regardless of their real opinions.

But other studies say the same. A Finder survey discovered that more than a third of drivers nation-wide have admitted to using their phones while driving, while university studies have found that about 90% of drivers know full well how dangerous it is to use phones while driving.

Drivers agree it's dangerous but simply aren't deterred.

Drivers don't want to be caught but are willing to risk it

A police presence might be convincing a handful of drivers to put the phone away, but the vast majority prefer to do it anyway while keeping a lookout. 70% of drivers report to being extra alert for police when using a phone while driving, and many also admit to taking steps like carefully holding it below the window.

By the numbers, it looks like drivers know it's dangerous and are worried about getting caught, but they're perfectly willing to take those risks.

The hard truth might be that Australians don't want to stop using their phones while driving, and all the police and road safety experts in the world can't make them.

At this stage, it looks like mobile phones behind the wheel will keep being a problem until driverless cars come along and solve it for good.

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