As WA motorists face $1000 fines for using mobile phones on the road from July 1, police have revealed a two-day operation in the CBD and Leederville this month resulted in a spate of fines for drivers who couldn’t keep their hands on the wheel.
Motorcycle officers from the traffic enforcement group spent four hours each day patrolling city streets and observing cars, issuing infringements for various offences, including 104 mobile phone breaches.
Latest available annual figures obtained under Freedom of Information show police handed out a total of 16,793 infringement notices — about 46 a day — in the 2017-18 financial year, down from 17,382 in 2016-17.
“The distraction epidemic is causing deaths and serious injuries at an alarming rate,” RAC’s manager of corporate affairs Will Golsby said.
“It takes an average of five seconds to read a text message. At 100km/h, that’s like driving across the MCG blindfolded.
“As technology evolves, so too does the level of distraction in our cars.
“Instead of letting our devices control us, we need to look up when we’re driving and focus on what’s most important, the safety of ourselves and those around us.”
Research shows 95 per cent of WA motorists acknowledge the danger of using a mobile phone behind the wheel.
It’s a global issue, with the World Health Organisation addressing it in a 2011 report titled Mobile Phone Use: A Growing Problem of Driver Distraction.
It doesn’t have to be.
Smartphones can be programmed to silence notifications and calls in the car simply by turning on “do not disturb” in settings. Alternatively, you can set the “do not disturb while driving function” on an iPhone or “driving mode” on an Android, which detects when you’re in the car and sends an automatic reply to calls and texts.
Manning-based Textstopper chief executive Steve Metlitzky described mobile phone use by motorists as both a behaviour and a habit, with the company focusing on distracted driving for five years as it fine-tuned its US and European-developed products to better suit Australian and New Zealand laws.
He said the Textstopper program, widely used by fleet operators, consisted of a small, battery-operated device mounted in the vehicle, a phone app and a website where a family member or fleet manager could review data.
The phone app shuts off access to everything apart from hands-free calls, navigation and music streaming, targeting both “outbound” phone use, such as trying to make a call manually, send a message or an email, or perhaps do a Facebook or Instagram post, and “inbound” beeps that forced people to take their eyes off the road.
It also had an emergency override to dial 000.
Families often put it in cars for novice drivers, but it was popular with fleet customers, which had included Coca-Cola and Red Bull.
“Typically in the first week, a few people — roughly 5-10 per cent — will continue to try to get around the system, but this shows up in notifications and reports to the administrator and can be dealt with at an HR level to help retrain and address the behaviour,” Mr Metlitzky said.
“After one month, we normally find that pretty much all behaviour changes and the number of people trying to use their phones while driving drops off to almost zero — and this continues.”
He said the end result was not only safer driving, but fewer at-fault accidents that helped fleet operators reduce their insurance premiums.
“For families, it’s peace of mind,” he said.
“It helps remove the temptation for a P-plater to use the phone while driving, but still allows them the convenience of having it in the car.”
In WA, a driver can only touch a mobile phone to receive and end a phone call if the phone is secured in a mounting.
If the phone is not secured in a mounting, it can only be used to receive or terminate a phone call without touching it, so using voice activation, a Bluetooth hands-free car kit, an earpiece or headset.
It is illegal for the driver to create, send or look at a text message, video message, email or similar communication, even when the phone is secured in a mounting, or can be operated without touching it.
GPS may be used by a driver while driving so long as the keypad or screen is not touched.