Hands-free apps are ‘just as dangerous’
APPS that disable phone calls and read out texts, tweets and emails when you are driving are on their way to Australia.
However, road safety expert Professor Simon Washington says they may be just as dangerous as using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
‘‘I have not seen a product in Australia yet that has come out to successfully monitor phone use while driving, but some are coming fairly soon,’’ the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety — Queensland (CARRS-Q) researcher says. ‘‘They generally work on a similar principle of blocking phone calls by using the GPS to detect movement.
‘‘However, that would prevent you (from) using the phone when you are a passenger.
‘‘There are more innovative products that read emails and text messages, but I’m not sure it’s any safer as you are still diverting attention from the driving task.
‘‘Evidence doesn’t bear that out that it would be a risk-reducing device.’’
Prof Washington says the US Government has banned all use of mobile phones by employees while using fleet vehicles and some US companies have followed suit.
As far back as 2002, Shell instituted a ban on hand- held phone use and extended that to include hands-free devices in 2005, resulting in a 57 per cent reduction in crashes.
Phone apps allow companies and government administrators to monitor whether their employees are using phones while driving and impose fines.
But Prof Washington does not believe any Australian government or company is considering a similar ban or monitoring policy.
While ‘‘hands-free is just as dangerous as hand-held’’ he says banning all phone use while driving would be too difficult to enforce.
‘‘The police say it’s too difficult to detect now and that they only pick up a very small percentage of offenders,’’ he says.
‘‘Drivers are generally aware if there is a law enforcement officer around.’’
He says the answer to dangerous distracted driving behaviour such as texting while driving is not legislation or technology, but education. ‘‘Young drivers are the particular offenders because the proportion using these devices is really large, so we need to capture that market at the learn-to-drive stage,’’ he says.
‘‘If we can develop behaviour in that age group they won’t do it when they are older.’’