Looking at a phone screen for two seconds or more makes drivers four times more likely to have a crash, new research has revealed.
A study commissioned by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) found while the vast majority of drivers were trying to reduce their phone use, there was a big gap between what they thought worked and what they actually did.
The study found very few people turned off their phones when driving, despite most thinking it was an effective way to reduce their use.
Researchers interviewed 30 young drivers and did two online surveys, receiving responses from almost 1300 participants across Australia and New Zealand.
They also surveyed 32 international road safety experts in 13 countries working in universities, the government, public and not-for-profit sectors.
AAA Research Manager Dr Kate O’Donnell said the new research shed light on the complex interplay of factors that influence how, when and why we use our smartphones in different driving scenarios.
The study also reveals how distracted driving compares with other risky driving behaviours such as driving while tired or affected by alcohol.
"This is one of the first studies to look at all the new ways we are using our phones while driving, beyond just calling and texting, and the factors that significantly influence that use," Dr O’Donnell said.
"It’s not as simple as calling it 'phone addiction' and the solution is not going to be as simple as telling people to just put their phones away."
For young drivers, the highest level of engagement was with entertainment apps, such as music and podcasts, and most types of phone use increased markedly when drivers were in stop-start traffic or stopped at traffic lights.
Dr O’Donnell said well-established calling and texting apps were the most common ways more experienced drivers took risks with their phone.
"But the social media trap seems to capture both younger and experienced drivers, who engage with those apps at similar rates when they grab their phones," she said.
"Interestingly, experienced drivers report a slightly higher use of social media in all types of traffic conditions – this is not just a younger person problem."
The AAA, the national body that represents RACQ, has applied the research to create a resource designed to break the nexus between young drivers’ motivations to use their smartphones while driving, and their actual use.
Drive In The Moment is a new, online platform with a "risk rater" tool that demonstrates the risk of smartphone distraction when compared with other risky behaviours.
You can then try the "plan builder" tool, which prompts you to build a bespoke guide to reduce smartphone use by helping to identify the various ways and moments in which you are tempted to use a phone.
The tool will then ask you to develop a tailored "mental plan" of how to better respond, manage relapses and re-enforce positive behaviour.
"The good news is we can see from the research people are trying to reduce their use, and we hope this new approach is one way that can help those who want to change their behaviour," Dro O’Donnell said.
"We want Australians to aspire to be better, safer drivers, who take less risks on the road. Have a plan, ditch the distractions, and drive in the moment."
The distracted driving research was commissioned by the Australian Automobile Association in partnership with the New Zealand Automobile Association, using grant funding from the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile, and conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (CARRS-Q).
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