While announcing new penalties in force in the ACT from tomorrow under which checking Facebook, texting or using an app while driving could cost you $511 and four demerit points, ACT Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury has described a near-miss he had while jogging on a Canberra road recently.
Mr Rattenbury said people who text or use Facebook or mobile apps while driving were not only putting themselves in danger, but placing other road users in danger too.
“From my own recent personal experience, just two weekends ago, I was out jogging and I crossed the road with a green pedestrian symbol to go, and a driver was using his mobile phone just drove straight through a red light, just as I went to cross the road,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“It was a personal lived example of the sort of dangers we are seeing on the road.”
Joining Mr Rattenbury at an event this morning to raise awareness of the new penalties was Peter Frazer, the founder of National Road Safety Week, whose daughter Sarah was killed by a distracted driver in 2013.
Mr Frazer said Australians’ obsession with connection was becoming a growing contributor to “completely avoidable carnage”.
“Just last week, Professor Rebecca Ivers noted that smart phone use is now so pervasive that ‘for many people driving or walking seems to be a distraction from their use of social media’,” Mr Frazer said.
“While it may be akin to an obsessive-compulsive disorder, use of your smart phone while driving always remains your choice. While you may be willing to put your life at risk, this foolish and unnecessary behaviour may result in some innocent person being maimed or killed. Putting vulnerable lives at risk is simply intolerable and I am pleased that the Minister and ACT Government have drawn a line in the sand.
“By increasing fines and demerit points, coupled with targeted education and enforcement campaigns, the ACT has sent a clear message, especially to novice drivers; your distracted driving is dangerous driving! If you can’t control your unhealthy behaviour, you may be back to asking mum or dad for a lift.”
The new penalties are separate to the existing offence of talking on the phone which carries a $416 fine and three demerit points.
ACT Government research has found that 13 per cent of ACT drivers admit to using a handheld mobile phone while driving – with four per cent of those drivers stating that they do this all the time.
Mr Rattenbury said the four demerit points for this offence would result in the loss of licence for provisional drivers who have not completed the Road Ready Course and increased their demerit point threshold to eight points.
“Your text or Facebook message can wait until you arrive safely at your destination. So be patient, stay safe and put your phone away until you get there,” he said.
About 90 per cent of traffic infringement notices issued for driver distraction in 2015 were for mobile phone offences, according to ACT Policing.
So far this year, police have issued 725 Traffic Infringement Notices and 313 Cautions for using mobile phones while driving making a total of 1038 drivers caught for using mobile phones while driving so far this year.
About 40 per cent of drivers issued with a Traffic Infringement Notice for using their mobile phone provided police with a reason. Of those, half said they used their phone to take or make a call. About half said they used it for something other than calling, such as GPS maps, music controls, checking the time, texting, emails and social media.
Pictured are ACT Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury, ACT Policing Traffic Operations Acting Station Sergeant Steve Booth and National Road Safety Week founder Peter Frazer.