Victoria Police Media Release: Steer away from dangerous trend Tue 29 November 2005 By Chelsea Arnold
Image: Ted Marsh and Superintendent Peter Keogh
As technology is employed to fight road carnage, in the form of speed cameras, radars and safer cars, it is ironic that technology itself poses an increasing threat to motorists.
Now, a push to ban the use of hands-free mobile phones for L and P-plate drivers has been backed by traffic police. Superintendent Peter Keogh of the Road Safety Awareness Unit supports the move, part of driver licensing law changes mooted by the State Government in August, in the hope it will prevent the loss of lives on Victorian roads.
“Novice drivers are at greater risk of crash involvement because of their inexperience and under-developed hazard perception skills, however, to undertake additional distractions while driving, such as using a mobile phone, has a greater impact on their ability to concentrate on the task of driving.
“Drivers should be concentrating on important signage, for example, speed limit signs, as well as all traffic movement around them, including vehicles, pedestrians and other hazards. “The distraction of mobile phone use by inexperienced drivers is a significant safety risk and the proposition to legislate against its use will help keep them and other roads users alive.”
The proposal is one of a raft of initiatives contained in the Young Driver Discussion Paper which states mobile phone use, including hands-free, increases crash risk by 25 per cent and the driver fatality risk is four to nine times higher. It states young drivers more often have a mobile phone in the vehicle when driving and have it switched on, compared with other drivers.
“The distraction of mobile phone use for inexperienced drivers poses a serious safety risk, given their hazard perception skills are already underdeveloped,” it stated. Supt Keogh said a moment’s distraction could lead to life-long repercussions for many people, as the parents of a cyclist killed by a texting P-plate driver can attest.
Ted and Sue Marsh of Torquay have devoted many hours to lobbying for road law changes and educating motorists on their responsibilities on the road, after son Anthony Marsh was killed on 30 December, 2001.
Anthony, 36, the oldest of five children, was cycling in the bike lane towards Geelong on Portarlington Road, Moolap when about 11.30am he was struck from behind by a P-plate driver who was sending a text message.
Two years ago the driver of the vehicle, Sylvia Ciach, was handed a two-year suspended sentence for culpable driving causing death. The Marshes admit “the incident left two families distraught” and they urge motorists to think of the consequences before picking up a mobile telephone while driving.
“There can’t be any vindication for texting while driving,” Mr Marsh said. “Think about the consequences. You don’t have to go through all this pain we have had to suffer. It’s had an enormous impact on us that we will never recover from. “I don’t know how other people deal with the loss of a child. It is so overwhelming.”
Despite the devastation of their loss, the Marshes acknowledge the lengths Senior Constable Ron Gray of the Geelong Traffic Management Unit went to in pursuing the case. “Our admiration for Ron has grown over the years. We have nothing but good things to say about him. This case was the first of its kind in Victoria.
Text messaging is very hard to prove. But Ron was totally immovable and he knew exactly what he was going to say. “We met some wonderful people within the court system during the whole process.” Sen Const Gray, who has more than 10 years in traffic policing, was first on scene after the collision.
“Since then, a number of fatal collisions have occurred where the drivers were using mobile phones or sending text messages. Drivers have got to concentrate. It’s that split second that causes these collisions to happen. “The initiative is a step in the right direction but the accidents don’t just involve young people they are right across the board and it is important that everyone takes notice.”
Supt Keogh concurred, admitting the use of mobile phones was prevalent “right across the board. It’s business people who are on the road for work right down to young people”. “Because of the advances in technology, it’s progressing to such an extent that these devices are more than a mobile phone and have a lot more functions.”
He said it stood to reason that as technology advances, the likelihood of road collisions like this occurring was bound to increase. In 2004, Victoria Police statistics showed police detected more than 22,572 motorists using a mobile phone while driving. In the first six months of this year, 16,547 penalty notices have been issued in relation to such driving offences.
Supt Keogh said research shows that even talking on a hands-free phone, which many motorists believe safe, is a distraction. A Monash University study revealed that using a legal hands-free mobile phone while driving was equal to driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08, while an NRMA study found that text messaging while driving distracted drivers for 12 of every 30 seconds they spent writing the message.
“The drivers are taking their eyes off the road to write an SMS with a vehicle that is at speed that is dangerous and there is likelihood for something to happen ahead and you are not concentrating,” Supt Keogh said. “It’s the old adage ‘it won’t happen to me’. But nothing is so important that it can’t wait. People need to appreciate that when they are driving a car, there is nothing more important than driving it.”
Chelsea Arnold – Police Life October 2005