Survey shows continuing increase in mobile phone use while driving

The use of a mobile phone while driving can be very dangerous for other vehicles, pedestrians and drivers themselves.  New communications technology has been devised to accommodate the less-new technology of mobile phones but in itself hands-free technologies are masking the risk.

Although this hazard is across the driving community, there is particular relevance for workplace drivers as their status complicates the arguments against talking or texting while driving and provides additional control measures.

A new survey from the Telstra Corporation in Australia is useful on this issue as it provides some comparative data to a 2004 survey.  In considering this data, it is  important to realise the increased prevalence of mobile telephones in the community, the increased reliance on them for communication in business processes and the development of a range of hands-free devices such as earpieces, headsets and visor units.

In a media statement Jenny Young, Executive Director of Telstra’s  Consumer Division, (pictured right) said

“Despite Telstra’s research showing almost half of drivers surveyed believe using mobile phones is a large problem that can cause many serious accidents, many continue to engage in risky behaviour behind the wheel. Staggeringly, almost a quarter of Australian motorists are knowingly breaking the law by using their mobiles to make handheld calls, with 25-34 year olds the worst offenders.”

An audio grab from Ms Young is available below.

The most recent survey of around 1,000 participants was conducted in January 2010 and compared results with a similar survey from 2004.  The comparison showed the following:

  • “Almost one-third of motorists believe their driving has been affected when using a mobile phone, holding it as a handset, and 17.3% believe it has been affected when using a phone handsfree.  This is significantly more so for men (32.7 per cent for handset use and 21 per cent for handsfree), than for women (28.3 percent for handset use and 11.6 per cent for handsfree).
  • 96.3 per cent of motorists acknowledge that it is illegal to read or send an SMS while driving, up from 90 per cent in 2004.
  • 25-34 year olds are the worst offenders when it comes to sending SMS while driving, followed by 17 to 24 year olds. Additionally, females (36.4 per cent) are more likely than men (31.5 per cent) to send SMS while driving.
  • 7 per cent of motorists (up from 4 per cent in 2004), do not know when it is illegal for the driver of a vehicle to use a mobile phone.
  • 30 per cent of motorists admit to speaking for one to two minutes on their handset every time they receive a call.  Interestingly, female motorists are more likely to use their mobile to make shorter conversations while driving, with 46.6 per cent speaking for less than 30 seconds (compared to 28.6 per cent of men).”

The data is intriguing but the control measures presented by the (admittedly)  telephone company should be considered and translated into the work environment through safe driving policies and, perhaps, choice of phone and accessories at the purchase stage.

Telstra recommends the following “safety”

  1. “When behind the wheel, never use a handheld phone for calls, texting or email.  It’s unsafe and illegal in all Australian States and Territories.
  2. If your mobile rings in the car and can’t be answered without touching it, you should allow the call to divert to MessageBank.
  3. If you need to make a call, send a text or check email, stop in a safe place and turn your engine off. Don’t stop where you could be a hazard to other vehicles, pedestrians or yourself.
  4. Never dial a number, take notes, write down messages, type out an email or send a  text while driving.
  5. In states where mobiles can be used as GPS devices by drivers, make sure they are secured in a commercial holder and the service operates hands-free.”

Firstly workplaces should assess the need to be in contact with staff while driving.  Should phones be turned off when the employee is driving, rather than on silent or some other alternative?  As long as the phone is on, there is a potential distraction.  The use of an answering service is a good idea for driving but also to allow employees to have a window of phone silence if they need to relax or collect their thoughts.

Point three is a difficult tip to apply depending on the volume and flow of traffic one is in.  Also important in this scenario is the need to have one’s mobile ringtone run for long enough to exit traffic, secure one’s position and to answer the phone.  Many phones do not allow sufficient configuration to meet this situation.

Point four should almost be unnecessary and applies outside the context of mobile phones.  This point lists basic control options that should be integral to any workplace safe driving policies and a condition workplaces should impose on drivers.

The issue of phones in commercial holders is significant.  Serious consideration should be given to the older style of phone installation – integrating the phone as much as possible into the design or layout of the dashboard instead of a suction cap holder on the windscreen.  Professionals installation will minimize the potential for recharging cables to snake through the steering column and across important dashboard signs and dials.  The phone can be located in the optimum position for safe access and safe reading.

Jumping back to a better option is to source fleet vehicles that already have, not only Bluetooth connectivity in the vehicle, a cradle that matches the needs of the driver be they a truck driver, small van operator or a driver of a standard sedan.

What’s missing from the Telstra data above is a consideration of each driver on a case-by-case basis.  This will be unpopular with fleet managers and officers but will reduce the likelihood of an employee crashing while at work.

Kevin Jones

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