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Deadly driver distractions: 78% of drivers admit to multi-tasking behind the wheel – with eating and drinking the most common disruption

6 min read
1 Feb 2020

Driver distraction results in up to one in 10 fatalities and at least 14 per cent of all car crashes[1]. Among accidents caused by diverted attention, 36 per cent occur due to distractions within the vehicle.[2] Despite this, concerning new research has found that 3 in 4 Aussie motorists are still multi-tasking behind the wheel.

We commissioned a survey of an independent, nationally representative panel of 1000 Australian adult motorists.[3] Respondents were presented with eight common car distractions – eating, texting, consuming beverages, searching for an item in the back seat, using mobile apps, wearing headphones, doing hair and makeup or other grooming activities, and watching videos. They were then asked whether they had done any of these actions while driving, stalling in traffic or at a red light.

We found that over three-quarters (78 per cent) of motorists admitted to multi-tasking behind the wheel.

Even if there is no law specifically against an activity behind the wheel, it can still be deemed as risky behaviour as there are general traffic offences related to distracted driving and not having proper control of the vehicle. If you cause an accident and are found to have been infringing traffic rules, it may invalidate your insurance claim.[4]

Interestingly, just over a third (34 per cent) of motorists admitted to consuming beverages while driving, and 29 per cent said they’ve eaten while driving too. While there is no specific law against these types of activities, motorists in all states and territories (excluding WA) could be fined for distracted driving and for not having proper control of the vehicle.[5] Fines and penalties vary between each State. In South Australia, penalties can range between a loss of 3 demerit points[6] and a maximum fine of up to $2500.[7]

While just eight per cent of drivers equally admitted to texting and using mobile apps while driving, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) have texted while in gridlock traffic or at red lights. A further fifth (20 per cent) admitted to using mobile apps while their car was stationary too.

obey_road_signs
In Australia, it is illegal to hold or use a mobile device at any time while driving or operate a visual display unit, even when stopped in traffic.[8] Drivers can only make a call if the phone is in a cradle or if it can be operated with Bluetooth controls and without touching the device.

Last year, mobile phone detection cameras were introduced in NSW to detect motorists who use their phones while driving. During the pilot between January and June, the cameras found more than 100,000 drivers using their phones illegally.[9] Queensland is also set to trial the new mobile phone detection cameras this year, with fines increased to $1000 since 1 February.[10]

Almost one in ten (nine per cent) drivers have reached for an item in the back seat while driving, compared with 43 per cent who have done so while their vehicle is stationary. Western Australia has the highest penalty for removing a seatbelt to reach into the back of a vehicle – a $550 fine and loss of 4 demerit points.[11]

The results also reveal that a higher proportion of drivers multi-task when stalled in gridlock traffic or at red lights: 40 per cent said they consumed beverages, 35 per cent have eaten, and 15 per cent said they’ve done hair and makeup while the car has been stationary.

Analysing the findings across age groups, we found that motorists in their 30s are the worst offenders when it comes to multi-tasking behind the wheel. Forty-eight (48) per cent admitted to eating while driving, 45 per cent texted in gridlock traffic or at a red light, and 39 per cent used mobile apps while stationary.

Multi-tasking while driving is hazardous, as the chance of having a crash or near-miss doubles when drivers look away from the road for more than two seconds.[12] These instances could result in road fatalities, accidents and even have the potential to invalidate a car insurance claim if the driver is found to be disobeying traffic laws.[13]

We recommend motorists check they have the appropriate level of car insurance for their motoring needs and advises them to shop around to find a policy that suits their back-pocket too. Comparethemarket.com.au is Australia’s biggest car insurance comparison company – with more policy features and pricing information available than anywhere else – offering free comparison to ensure motorists find the most suitable cover for their needs.

Fines and demerits for offences related to distracted driving

Driving offencesFine and demerit points lost by State
NSWQLDACTWATASSAVIC
Illegally operating a mobile phone while driving$344

5 pts[14]

$1000[15], 4 pts$480, 3 pts[16]$400, 3 pts[17]$300, 3 pts[18]$534, 3 pts[19]$496, 4 pts[20]
Driver failing to wear a properly fastened and adjusted seatbelt$344, 3 pts[21]$400, 3 pts[22]$502, 3 pts[23]$550, 4 pts[24]$336, 3 pts[25]$381, 3 pts[26]$330, 3 pts[27]
Not having proper control of the vehicle or driving without due care$457, 3 pts[28]$533, 3 pts[29]$297[30], NA$100, 1 pt.[31]$168, 0 pts[32]Up to $2500[33], 3 pts[34]$397, 3 pts[35]
Negligent drivingIn cases not occasioning death or grievous bodily harm, drivers receive an infringement notice and 3 demerits points[36]

Sources

[1] Roads and Maritime Services, https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/safety-rules/safe-driving/driving-distractions.html
[2] Roads and Maritime Services, https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/safety-rules/safe-driving/driving-distractions.html
[3] Survey was conducted by Pureprofile of respondents who own or have access to a car and drive (Dec 2019)
[4] Comparethemarket.com.au analysed 4 car insurance policies: Woolworths (p.27), Budget Direct (p.9), Huddle (p.43) and Australia Post (p.12).
[5] Australian National Transport Commission 2019, p.19-20 https://www.ntc.gov.au/sites/default/files/assets/files/NTC%20Issues%20Paper%20-%20Developing%20technology-neutral%20road%20rules%20for%20driver%20distraction.pdf
[6] Roads and Maritime Services General Driving Offences, 2019 p.7 https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/roads/safety-rules/demerits-general.pdf
[7] Legal Services Commission of South Australia, https://lsc.sa.gov.au/dsh/ch13s06.php
[8] Australian National Transport Commission 2019, p32-55. https://www.ntc.gov.au/sites/default/files/assets/files/NTC%20Issues%20Paper%20-%20Developing%20technology-neutral%20road%20rules%20for%20driver%20distraction.pdf
[9] NSW Transport, https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/mobilephones/technology.html
[10] Queensland Government Media Statements, 2019 http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2019/12/9/50-ways-to-leave-you-safer
[11] Western Australia Road Safety Commission, https://www.rsc.wa.gov.au/Rules-Penalties/Browse/Seatbelts
[12] National Roads and Motorists’ Association, 2017 https://www.mynrma.com.au/-/media/documents/reports-and-subs/road-safety-action-plan—cant-talk-driving.pdf?la=en
[13] Comparethemarket.com.au analysed 4 car insurance policies: Woolworths (p.27), Budget Direct (p.9), Huddle (p.43) and Australia Post (p.12).
[14] Transport for NSW, https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/mobilephones/know-the-rules.html
[15] Queensland Government – Driving and mobile phones: https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/safety/road-safety/mobile-phones
[16] ACT government, pg.362 https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/DownloadFile/sl/2005-11/current/PDF/2005-11.PDF
[17] Government of Western Australia Road Safety Commission, https://roadrules.rsc.wa.gov.au/road-rules/mobile-phones
[18] Tasmania Police, 2017 https://www.police.tas.gov.au/what-we-do/traffic-policing/traffic-tuesday/21-mobile-phones/
[19] South Australian Government, https://www.mylicence.sa.gov.au/road-rules/offences-and-penalties#summaryofoffences
[20] Victorian Government, https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/-/media/files/documents/safety-and-road-rules/feesfinespenalties/fines-table-29-oct-2019.ashx?la=en&hash=B15770432247D0AA9623925F30E7B77D
[21] Transport NSW, https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/index.cgi?fuseaction=demeritpoints.browsehandler&category=Seat+belts+%26+restraints&offence=
[22] QLD Government, https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/safety/fines/demerit/points#seatbelt
[23] ACT government, pg. 349 https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/DownloadFile/sl/2005-11/current/PDF/2005-11.PDF
[24] Western Australia Road Safety Commission, https://www.rsc.wa.gov.au/Rules-Penalties/Browse/Seatbelts
[25] Tasmanian Government, https://www.transport.tas.gov.au/licensing/offences/traffic_offences/lister_full
[26] South Australian Government, https://www.mylicence.sa.gov.au/road-rules/offences-and-penalties#summaryofoffences
[27] Victorian Government, pg. 11 https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/-/media/files/documents/safety-and-road-rules/feesfinespenalties/fines-table-29-oct-2019.ashx?la=en&hash=B15770432247D0AA9623925F30E7B77D
[28] Roads and Maritime Services General Driving Offences, 2019 p.7 https://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/roads/safety-rules/demerits-general.pdf
[29] Queensland Government Transport Safety ‘driving without due care and attention’ https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/safety/fines/demerit/points#drivingsafely
[30] ACT Government Road Transport Regulations, 2017 p.361 https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/DownloadFile/sl/2005-11/current/PDF/2005-11.PDF
[31] Western Australia Road Safety Commission, search: ‘control of the vehicle’ https://www.rsc.wa.gov.au/Rules-Penalties
[32] Tasmania Government Transport, https://www.transport.tas.gov.au/licensing/offences/traffic_offences/lister_full
[33] Legal Services Commission of South Australia, https://lsc.sa.gov.au/dsh/ch13s06.php
[34] South Australia Road Traffic Act, pg:87 https://legislation.sa.gov.au/LZ/C/R/MOTOR%20VEHICLES%20REGULATIONS%202010/CURRENT/2010.30.AUTH.PDF
[35] Victorian Government Roads https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/-/media/files/documents/safety-and-road-rules/feesfinespenalties/fines-table-29-oct-2019.ashx?la=en&hash=B15770432247D0AA9623925F30E7B77D
[36] National Criminal Lawyers, https://www.nationalcriminallawyers.com.au/negligent-driving/
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