GENERATION TEXT: So convenient, so irresistible, so dangerous

FOR more than two decades airwaves have been bombarded with warnings of the dangers of drink-driving with the ‘Bloody Idiot’ slogan becoming household words in Victorian homes.

It seems to have paid dividends with a dramatic drop-off in numbers of drink-drive incidents.

Now it’s time to ramp up the campaign on distractions, especially the use of mobile phones while driving, considering the proliferation of the devices and their morphing into all areas of our daily lives.

Most nations around the world ban the use of mobile phones in moving cars and there have been several high-profile attempts to turn users off the habit, including actor Will Smith’s portrayal of death while texting in the movie Seven Pounds and pleas by former US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.

An experiment in the USA showed texting while driving impaired reaction times more than being legally drunk, while Monash University studies showed drivers spend up to 400 per cent more time with their eyes off the road when texting than when not. 

Texting increases the risk of a crash or a near-crash by up to 15 times for car drivers and more than 20 times for truck drivers, research shows. 

Another US study showed 80 per cent of crashes and 65 per cent of near-crashes involved driver inattention in the few seconds prior to the incident.

But the message isn’t getting through, particularly among young drivers, despite graphic Transport Accident Commission ads in its “Distractions lead to Disaster” campaign launched in February last year.

Research released during recent National Youth Week showed young Aussies are more likely than other age groups to think the biggest road safety worries are outside their car.

Legal firm Slater and Gordon found that among 2000 people surveyed, those aged between 16 to 24 were less likely to identify factors inside the car as safety hazards.

The company’s motor vehicle accident lawyer Genevieve Henderson said only 25 per cent of the younger age bracket ranked talking on the phone while driving as a major risk factor, compared with 40 per cent for all ages, but concerns on texting rose to 44 per cent among the younger bracket.

Only 26 per cent of the younger drivers thought drug-driving was a big issue compared with 28 per cent of all ages, but 63 per cent of the younger respondents identified drink-driving as the number-one danger. “These results showed that young people are still grappling with emerging issues like mobile phone use and driving while drugged and that our relevant road safety campaign messages or even the risks of penalties are yet to sink in,” Ms Henderson said.

“What our findings suggest is that young people may be lacking self-awareness about their own actions behind the wheel, with many of them believing that driving dangers are external to them and that other motorists are to blame.

“The sad fact is that Australia’s young drivers are over-represented in serious road crash statistics.”

Victoria’s government has taken the lead by introducing the nation’s toughest penalties in November for mobile phone use while driving.

Roads Minister Terry Mulder said they were the most significant changes to the state’s road rules in years and reflected the growing problem of distraction which had potential to kill or cause serious injuries. 

“We want to stamp this out as a dangerous habit that many people can fall into,” Mr Mulder said. “Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds to answer a call or read a text message can kill.”

Mr Mulder’s office said the use of a mobile phone while driving increased the risk of being in a crash by up to four times.

Driver distractions can take many forms, including using mobile phones (dialling, texting and scrolling), reading, reaching for objects, as well as focusing on objects outside the car that are unrelated to safe driving.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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