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All too often we hear of tragic deaths, serious injuries and other terrible accidents due to driver inattention. In fact, Australian drivers are distracted around 45% of the time on our roads. It’s a shocking statistic, but many people still seem to not understand the dangers – especially for the biggest distractor on our roads, mobile phones.

As of 1 February 2020, the Queensland Government brought in tougher penalties for drivers who use their mobile phone illegally while driving. This brings Queensland into line with other states such as South Australia, who have had a strong stance on mobile phones for a number of years.

Whilst these tough laws will certainly bring about hot debate, distracted drivers are as dangerous as someone drunk behind the wheel and are one of the top five causes of accidents. So, what are the new laws and what can you do to make sure you’re safe while driving and not tempted to use your phone?

A lot can happen in 75m

Associate Tabetha Hilliard says the dangers are bigger than most people realise when you’ve only got one hand on the wheel and no eyes on the road.

“A driver going 60km/h who glances at their phone can travel over 30m in two seconds. That’s a big distance, especially when slamming on the brakes can take another 45m for the car to stop.”

“A lot can happen in 75m, and being distracted only makes our reaction times slower.”

Tabetha says that clients coming to see her due to driver inattention are increasing, and believes she’s not alone when she sees drivers using their phones on a daily basis when travelling on our roads.

“I see drivers with their heads down whilst driving or stopped at traffic lights, distracted by their phones, or having a lovely chat with their phone to their ear.”

“Most are totally oblivious or unconcerned about their behaviour and the impact it is likely to have on other road users.”

The new laws & the fine print

For all drivers, regardless of the licence you hold, it is illegal to:

  • hold your phone up to or near your ear
  • hold your phone in your hand to text, talk, receive a call, turn your phone on or off or to perform any other function while driving

These rules apply even when you are stationary, such as at traffic lights. If you have an open licence, you can still use your phone hands-free in a mobile phone cradle attached to the vehicle or via in car Bluetooth, but you need to make sure that you always have proper control of your vehicle and have 100% attention to the road while using your phone.

The penalties for illegally using a mobile phone will increase from $400 fine and 3 demerit points to a $1,000 fine and 4 demerit points for a first offence.

If you are caught again within 12 months from your first offence, you will be issued with another $1,000 fine and a further eight demerit points. If you have two offences in a year, you could lose your licence or be subject to a one-year good driving behaviour period.

Extra rules for learners, p-platers and their passengers

If you are under 25 and hold a learner, P1 provisional or P1 probationary licence, then it is illegal for you to use your phone at all while driving under all circumstances. If caught, the penalties mean you will likely immediately lose your licence.

If you’re a passenger in a car with a learner or P1 licence driver, then it’s also illegal for you to use a mobile phone on loud speaker as it will distract the driver.

As one of the highest risk groups for serious injury in a crash, Tabetha’s advice is simple.

“My advice is to turn your phone off when you get behind the wheel and put it in the glove-box or in your bag where it cannot distract you at all,” she says. “As an inexperienced driver you need to focus 100% of your attention on the road at all times.”

Ask yourself: can it wait?

In our digital world, we’ve convinced ourselves that responding to a text or Snapchat has to be immediate. The reality is simple: it can wait.

If you’re used to having your mobile phone around while driving, you will need to make it impossible to be able to reach for it – which means changing your behaviour.

To make this easier, we recommend that you:

  • set up your Bluetooth, maps and music before you go – unless you’re a learner or P1 driver, in which case you can skip ahead to the next step.
  • tell your friends and family that you’re about to start driving and you’ll respond when you’ve reached your destination.
  • put your phone on silent or do-not-disturb.
  • stick your phone in your bag and put it on the floor of the backseat, or in the glove-box.

There’s also a number of helpful functions on your phone that can help you keep your hands on the wheel. You can set up auto-responders to messages that alert people that you’re driving and cannot respond. You can also set it up so that your phone will only ring if it’s connected to Bluetooth or a hands-free accessory.

These laws are designed to keep everyone safe on the road and the reality is that driver inattention causes serious injuries and death.

Make sure you’re unplugged before you hit the road so that you, and those around you on the roads, arrive at your destinations safely.

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