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Time to rethink mobile phone penalties?

By 1337Hax0r 1 February 2013 82

I was sitting on the bus this afternoon, staring out the window as usual. On my 20 minute commute I spotted three drivers using their mobile phones, hand held, with no hands free kits. One, in a dark blue RAV 4 on Canberra Ave drifted all over the lane, and almost side swiped a car, which the driver of the Rav 4 clearly did not even notice. Then we got stuck behind a freight van being driven by another driver on the mobile.

Day in, day out, without fail, I see drivers on their mobile phones. Clearly whatever fines people are getting are not a deterrent. I don’t know what the fine is in the ACT, or if it even involves demerit points, but clearly it is not enough. I know it is $298 in NSW.

Consider tradies for example. Many of them seem to be constantly on the mobile phone while driving. They might make thousands of dollars from a phone call, so a fine of even a few hundred dollars now and them is no deterrent.

Perhaps a new approach is needed? Perhaps do the same as what is done with other car fines, for repeat offenders, the phone gets confiscated, and more importantly, the phone number. A tradie or anyone else for that matter making money off of a phone number for their business would be in serious inconvenience if their phone number is disconnected, or diverted to a message saying the number has been suspended until a specific date due to illegal use of the phone while driving. That would be a far more serious deterrent.

So, with this in mind, how do I go about getting it enacted as law? Write to my local member? Or have people had better success with other methods?


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Time to rethink mobile phone penalties?
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Kali 1:11 pm 07 Feb 13

On the way to work last week I actually spotted a lady in the car next to me holding a towel against the side window (to block out the sun) with one hand and craning her neck to stay in the shadow it created (possibly a vampire ?) while swerving all over the place….WTF ?

Henry82 11:08 am 07 Feb 13

Innovation said :

That scene in packed to the rafters where that girl died was probably more effective than many of the ads around. We need more graphic ads to get through to these people.

I’m not sure why people should have to be bombarded with graphic images of car accidents when watching tv. Perhaps we could just get some police to actually enforce the current laws. Just sayin’

devils_advocate 11:03 am 07 Feb 13

Innovation said :

That scene in packed to the rafters where that girl died was probably more effective than many of the ads around. We need more graphic ads to get through to these people.

I think they also need to turn them over more regularly, because once the ad becomes too familiar, it loses its impact. I usually only pay attention when I see the ad the first few times. Would be interesting to know what is the cost of producing and airing a reasonably well-design ad in peak viewing times compared to, say, putting a marked car on patrol for the same period of time.

Innovation 10:37 am 07 Feb 13

That scene in packed to the rafters where that girl died was probably more effective than many of the ads around. We need more graphic ads to get through to these people.

GardeningGirl 10:23 am 07 Feb 13

Yes, it’s not as constant a message. Now you mention it I can’t remember when I last saw the ad. To me the young lady gave the impression of trying to emphasise that even the sweetest most innocent lass (as opposed to an inconsiderate hoon) can turn into a menace to herself and others on the roads when using a mobile.

devils_advocate 8:54 am 07 Feb 13

GardeningGirl said :

HardBallGets said :

Can’t recall ever seeing a phone/text/driving campaign, beyond some signage on the parkway etc.

I remember tv ads, one where a girl is excited about a birthday I think (?) and glances up just in time to see a little kid on a scooter in her windscreen, the other more recent one with the split screen showing what happens when she decides to “let it go to voicemail” compared to when she answers.

That’s a good example – but it just deosn’t seem to get as much of a run as the drink driving ads, or even the speeding ads (the one with the surgeon, saying would you rather a) arrive to a party late…). In fact even the (I thought quite good) ad with the tex perkins song, about the that is paranoid and keeps seeing cops everywhere, doesn’t seem to get as much of a run as the speeding ads. WTF.

Also the woman in the texting/mobile phone ad came across as being cognitively impaired and not really relateable for most of us. SUV wavering all over the road would be more salient, I reckon.

X71 11:06 pm 06 Feb 13

If a driver is turning left or right at an intersection, the driver must give way to any pedestrian crossing the road the driver is entering.

This wording of the rule indicates that the person has to start walking first. Only a person on the road would pose a risk to safety so why stop if the person is just standing on the side of the road looking dumb. They might be taking a call before crossing 🙂

The rule does not stipulate that if you think the person wants to cross the road, you have to stop. It says, “A pedestrian crossing the road”.

X71 10:28 pm 06 Feb 13

RadioVK said :

Leon said :

RadioVK said :

They’re smart enough to work out how to operate a motor vehicle. I’d expect them to at least be able to remember the main [Road Rules] like not exceeding speed limits, wearing seatbelts, and not using hand held mobile phones while driving. Those that can’t manage this should be removed from the roads.

The average driver isn’t smart enough to remember the rules that require drivers to give way to pedestrians at intersections. Does that mean that:
A: that is not a “main” rule; or
B: The average driver should be removed from the roads?

To clarify, that wasn’t supposed to be a comprehensive list of the “main” road rules, just a few examples.

When I say “main road rules” I’m referring to rules such as “don’t use your mobile while driving” or “don’t drink and drive”, and so on, as opposed to rules such as “keep left unless overtaking”. One is outright dangerous, while the other is mostly just annoying.

1- The average driver probably wasn’t taught that you should give way to pedestrians at intersections (when turning into a side street, and the pedestrian is crossing said side street). My instructor never taught me this, I learned it from the good old road rules handbook. I’d suggest that this aspect of the law is not properly taught to driving students, and the fault lies more in inadequate education.

2- Define “average driver”. I’d agree that some of the more average drivers amongst us should probably be removed.

3- Do you know every one of the 200+ road rules from memory, because I don’t, and I don’t think that it makes me a bad driver.

If the person is waiting on the footpath and not crossing, then why stop on the main road to bei hit in the rear end by the next driver?
Who knows, maybe the hit will push you. Into the pedestrian?

DrKoresh 9:30 pm 06 Feb 13

RadioVK said :

Leon said :

DrKoresh said :

Yes, It should be a “main” rule. … Your figures of 60% of drivers not knowing. Is that from a study, or is it just your guesstimate? [From a survey of around 100 pedestrians, nearly all of whom were drivers]

I’d argue that 95% of pedestrians probably don’t know that they have right of way either. [Actually 60%]… as a pedestrian I never assume that I have right of way. I always wait untill I’m sure that the driver in question has seen me and reacted to my presence before I start crossing.

Very wise!

But as a driver, I don’t need to check at every intersection that truck every driver who is supposed to give way to me has seen me.

If a road rule is important, then should the police enforce it?
If it’s not important, is it worth having?

A very good point. You do have to assume at some point that the person behind the wheel of the other vehicle does know what he/she is doing.

My point is some rules are more important than others. For instance, driving under the influence is far more likely to end in injury or death than, say, failing to keep left on a dual carriageway. Both rules should be enforced, for different reasons, but I don’t think you’ll disagree that more resorces should be targeted at catching drink drivers than right lane hogs.

I don’t know why I’m being quoted for something I didn’t say 😐

GardeningGirl 6:47 pm 06 Feb 13

HardBallGets said :

Can’t recall ever seeing a phone/text/driving campaign, beyond some signage on the parkway etc.

I remember tv ads, one where a girl is excited about a birthday I think (?) and glances up just in time to see a little kid on a scooter in her windscreen, the other more recent one with the split screen showing what happens when she decides to “let it go to voicemail” compared to when she answers.

RadioVK 6:26 pm 06 Feb 13

Leon said :

DrKoresh said :

Yes, It should be a “main” rule. … Your figures of 60% of drivers not knowing. Is that from a study, or is it just your guesstimate? [From a survey of around 100 pedestrians, nearly all of whom were drivers]

I’d argue that 95% of pedestrians probably don’t know that they have right of way either. [Actually 60%]… as a pedestrian I never assume that I have right of way. I always wait untill I’m sure that the driver in question has seen me and reacted to my presence before I start crossing.

Very wise!

But as a driver, I don’t need to check at every intersection that truck every driver who is supposed to give way to me has seen me.

If a road rule is important, then should the police enforce it?
If it’s not important, is it worth having?

A very good point. You do have to assume at some point that the person behind the wheel of the other vehicle does know what he/she is doing.

My point is some rules are more important than others. For instance, driving under the influence is far more likely to end in injury or death than, say, failing to keep left on a dual carriageway. Both rules should be enforced, for different reasons, but I don’t think you’ll disagree that more resorces should be targeted at catching drink drivers than right lane hogs.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd 4:42 pm 06 Feb 13

While I have never seen the mobile phone use as a issue(used to always be on the phone and was no different than talking to passenger), it became the law so paid for expensive hands free. Now days though, all smart phones come with ear buds with voice mic. No excuse not to use them if you absolutely need to take a call.

Having said all that, don’t be a moron and text or INTERWEBS while driving.

Scary thought the day smart glasses are a consumer reality and used while driving for many more things than GPS.

Terra 4:22 pm 06 Feb 13

Wow. Serious comment on this.

The root cause is that so many drivers believe that at least some road rules are crap and they ignore them. Stupidly draconian speed limits are the culprit. Everyone travels at 130 on the Federal Highway, it’s just normal. Cause we all know that 110 is just ridiculous. So the law is ignored with the blessing of the local constabulary.

When you have opt in/opt out laws this will always happen. Get realistic with modern speed limits and enforce them. Until then drivers just choose what they want to comply with.

devils_advocate 4:07 pm 06 Feb 13

HardBallGets said :

So whilst enforcement and sanction are important elements of the drink drive campaign, it’s the communication strategy that I’d argue has most influenced community behaviour (including ‘normalisation’). Can’t recall ever seeing a phone/text/driving campaign, beyond some signage on the parkway etc.

The drink driving thing is an interesting comparison/analogue, because clearly what they are trying to do is introduce a moral dimension to the crime, and make it socially repugnant. Don’t know if they succeeded, but I can get behind it in a “I can see what you did there” kind of way. Would make an interesting empirical study.

Thinking about it further, I think more visible enforcement and deterrence could have a direct effect on the percieved value of p, and reducing the incidences of the bad behaviour could have an additional positive effect by reducing the perceived ‘normalness’ of the behaviour and having people view it as a relatively uncommon and serious crime.

Based on my observations, I think driving with a mobile phone is way, way more dangerous than speeding under normal circumstances (even where the speeding is fairly significant) and yet it is speeding that recieves all the enforcement activity. I think introducing a moral dimension in the public messaging, together with some salient information about consequences, so people realise it’s NOT just about the fine (rather than generalised admonitions that it’s a “bad thingTM cos we said so”) could change behaviour, but maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part.

HardBallGets 3:53 pm 06 Feb 13

devils_advocate said :

Well if we assume people are complete sociopaths and the only thing they think about in deciding whether to talk on their mobile phone is the possible fine (not injury or death to someone else) (happy to hear discussions on how heroic this assumption is):

deterrence is a function of the product of the likelihood of detection and sanction (p) times the expected value of that sanction (s). If the gain to the offender of engaging in the illegal conduct is greater than p*s, they will enage in the conduct.

I’m not aware of anyone who knows precisely the probability of being caught – certainly I don’t. It’s fairly unheard of, so while it does happen I would suggest p is a non-zero number that approaches zero. Would be interesting to know.

Probably relatively few people know the fine. I don’t know the fine, but that’s because I never do anything with my phone when I’m driving.

By definition, a significant number of people place such a high value on talking on their mobile while driving, without a hands-free, that it exceeds their expected value ps (even if that is wrong).

This could be a) because they think p is very small; b) their income is so high that s is not a significant deterrent for them; or both.

Other plausible behavioural factors could include normalisation (e.g. they percieve everyone else to be breaking the law, so feel no moral compulsion to obey the law); optimism bias (it’s well known that the vast majority of drivers feel they have above-average driving skill, which is by definition impossible); or something else.

The answers to these questions could inform discussion of whether more visible enforcement, higher penalties, or both are required. However, if we are talking about more visible enforcement (i.e. increasing the value of p) it’s fair to point out that a marked police car driving around creates general deterrence (i.e. it deters general ass-hattery, not just of the mobile phone variety).

Quoted in its entirety because of its high quality as a contribution to this conversation. The application of deterence theory is also an uncommon but excedingly helpful exercise in a whole bunch of other conversations as well. Kudos DA.

It is interesting how often people recognise a problem and then leap to “tougher penalties” as the only solution. In this case “lots of people are driving whilst operating a mobile phone, tougher sanctions will solve it”.

Given our understanding of deterence theory, it’s likely that tougher penalties alone will do very little to address the problem whilst the likelihood of detection is minimal.

As with most things, a range of interventions is likely to be the best approach. This should include as a priority a communication campaign, providing accurate and credible information to people about (i) the law, (ii) the risk of death/injury, (iii) the legal consequences, and (iv) what people should do instead.

So whilst enforcement and sanction are important elements of the drink drive campaign, it’s the communication strategy that I’d argue has most influenced community behaviour (including ‘normalisation’). Can’t recall ever seeing a phone/text/driving campaign, beyond some signage on the parkway etc.

devils_advocate 2:49 pm 06 Feb 13

Well if we assume people are complete sociopaths and the only thing they think about in deciding whether to talk on their mobile phone is the possible fine (not injury or death to someone else) (happy to hear discussions on how heroic this assumption is):

deterrence is a function of the product of the likelihood of detection and sanction (p) times the expected value of that sanction (s). If the gain to the offender of engaging in the illegal conduct is greater than p*s, they will enage in the conduct.

I’m not aware of anyone who knows precisely the probability of being caught – certainly I don’t. It’s fairly unheard of, so while it does happen I would suggest p is a non-zero number that approaches zero. Would be interesting to know.

Probably relatively few people know the fine. I don’t know the fine, but that’s because I never do anything with my phone when I’m driving.

By definition, a significant number of people place such a high value on talking on their mobile while driving, without a hands-free, that it exceeds their expected value ps (even if that is wrong).

This could be a) because they think p is very small; b) their income is so high that s is not a significant deterrent for them; or both.

Other plausible behavioural factors could include normalisation (e.g. they percieve everyone else to be breaking the law, so feel no moral compulsion to obey the law); optimism bias (it’s well known that the vast majority of drivers feel they have above-average driving skill, which is by definition impossible); or something else.

The answers to these questions could inform discussion of whether more visible enforcement, higher penalties, or both are required. However, if we are talking about more visible enforcement (i.e. increasing the value of p) it’s fair to point out that a marked police car driving around creates general deterrence (i.e. it deters general ass-hattery, not just of the mobile phone variety).

GardeningGirl 2:31 pm 06 Feb 13

sarahsarah said :

Yesterday I was driving from Woden into the city along Yamba Drive/Adelaide Ave (just before the Cotter Road overpass) when the SUV in front of me suddenly swerved off the road, across the bike lane and into the dirt. Briefly I thought that the driver must have had to pull over quickly for a kid emergency of some sort – I could see the shadow of a kid in the back and a Baby on Board sticker in the window. This was thought quickly replaced with of alarm when they swerved back out into traffic a moment later.

I switched lanes at this point and moved to overtake, trying to give them as much room as I could – the driver was meandering across their lane, speeding up and then slowing down and then back up again. As I passed, I glanced over and spied a woman with her eyes glued to her phone, obviously texting the most important message in history. Perhaps she’d just discovered the meaning of life or the secrets of the universe? I mean, why else would she feel the need to endanger the lives of herself, her kids and everyone else on the road with her? Especially as she’d effectively just lost control of her vehicle – not even that seemed to deter her.

She’s lucky it was dirt on the shoulder and not a concrete barrier, light pole or worse, a cyclist or pedestrian. You’d think ending up off the road would be enough to make her think, “Hmm, maybe I should put my phone down and pay attention.”

I’m still gob-smacked about it. Fraking brain-dead idiot.

After going off the road she got back on the road and kept texting and meandering? If it was THAT important that it couldn’t wait till she got to where she was going why didn’t she just stay put where she landed (after checking she wasn’t in a bad position obstructing visibility or something) and finish and then get back on the road? Fraking brain-dead idiot alright!

My gob-smacked tale. Car in front turned into a side street without indicating. No indicator, sadly nothing too unusual in that. But then she turned a u-ey (how do you spell that?) and came out in front of me chatting away obliviously, with a child in the back seat wide-eyed at the sight of me moving straight at them. I braked and it was then that she interrupted her mobile phone conversation to yell abuse at ME. Really? Excuse me for driving on the road when you want to use it for a phone call lady!

1337Hax0r, whatever the penalties I still think the problem is making sure enough people get caught that people will start caring about the possibility of getting those penalties.
Btw aren’t there devices that can block mobile signals? How precise are they? Can you set up one in a car to just block the car? Perhaps require people who are caught to rent such a device until they get out of the habit, a month for the first offence, a year for the second offence, etc. Make the rental fee significant. Perpetrator gets a financial penalty and is prevented from continuing the wrong behaviour, and the government makes revenue out of the rental. I wouldn’t mind if the device on the car was fairly conspicuous too so that everyone could see there goes an inconsiderate jerk but I suppose the do-gooders would be against that because it would embarrass them (just a thought, perhaps society might be doing better if there was a bit more embarrassment about behaviour detrimental to society?).

1337Hax0r 12:58 pm 06 Feb 13

How about some advice on how to get this enacted as law? It is all good debating about this, but what I want to know is how to get it introduced as a new proposed law.

Leon 12:01 pm 06 Feb 13

DrKoresh said :

Yes, It should be a “main” rule. … Your figures of 60% of drivers not knowing. Is that from a study, or is it just your guesstimate? [From a survey of around 100 pedestrians, nearly all of whom were drivers]

I’d argue that 95% of pedestrians probably don’t know that they have right of way either. [Actually 60%]… as a pedestrian I never assume that I have right of way. I always wait untill I’m sure that the driver in question has seen me and reacted to my presence before I start crossing.

Very wise!

But as a driver, I don’t need to check at every intersection that truck every driver who is supposed to give way to me has seen me.

If a road rule is important, then should the police enforce it?
If it’s not important, is it worth having?

sarahsarah 11:58 am 06 Feb 13

Yesterday I was driving from Woden into the city along Yamba Drive/Adelaide Ave (just before the Cotter Road overpass) when the SUV in front of me suddenly swerved off the road, across the bike lane and into the dirt. Briefly I thought that the driver must have had to pull over quickly for a kid emergency of some sort – I could see the shadow of a kid in the back and a Baby on Board sticker in the window. This was thought quickly replaced with of alarm when they swerved back out into traffic a moment later.

I switched lanes at this point and moved to overtake, trying to give them as much room as I could – the driver was meandering across their lane, speeding up and then slowing down and then back up again. As I passed, I glanced over and spied a woman with her eyes glued to her phone, obviously texting the most important message in history. Perhaps she’d just discovered the meaning of life or the secrets of the universe? I mean, why else would she feel the need to endanger the lives of herself, her kids and everyone else on the road with her? Especially as she’d effectively just lost control of her vehicle – not even that seemed to deter her.

She’s lucky it was dirt on the shoulder and not a concrete barrier, light pole or worse, a cyclist or pedestrian. You’d think ending up off the road would be enough to make her think, “Hmm, maybe I should put my phone down and pay attention.”

I’m still gob-smacked about it. Fraking brain-dead idiot.

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