Eating a quick brekky, having a drink or applying lipstick might seem like a harmless activity while stuck at a red light – but driver distractions account for up to one-in-10 fatalities.
Shock fine: Little-known $344 driving fine stuns Aussies
And, they make up at least 14 per cent of all car crashes, according to the Roads and Maritime Services.
Despite the devastating toll, more than three-in-four Australians admit to multi-tasking behind the wheel, new research from Compare the Market has found.
Based on a survey of 1,000 Australian drivers, one-in-three have had a non-alcoholic drink while driving and 29 per cent have eaten, with potential penalties as high as $2,500.
Eight per cent of drivers have used their phone, with 23 per cent admitting to picking up their device - but only while in gridlock or at traffic lights.
While it’s flat-out illegal to use a phone while driving unless it is in a cradle and being used for navigation, the laws around eating and drinking while driving are more nuanced.
Drivers face penalties if they are found to have been distracted at the time of an accident, and can also lose their insurance claim.
And the fines are hefty.
In South Australia, you can be fined up to $2,500 if you’re found to have been driving without having proper control of the vehicle, or driving without due care. That means that if you’re involved in an accident while eating or drinking, you could be in for that financial penalty and gain three demerit points.
And in Queensland, you’re looking at a $1,000 fine for illegally using a phone while driving.
These penalties come after a raft of changes introduced in Queensland and New South Wales in the last few months.
Since 1 February, Queensland drivers potential point losses increased from three to four while using a phone.
"Queensland now has the toughest penalties for distracted driving in Australia," Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said.
"Drivers using their phones illegally behind the wheel will pay a high price, but that penalty falls well short of the costs and trauma our community carries for those killed or injured in crashes caused by inattentive drivers.”
He said drivers who are using their phone while texting have a response time similar to those with a blood alcohol reading of 0.07 to 0.10.
"Like drink driving, drivers need to know that reaching for the phone to send a quick text or check social media when their eyes should be on the road is unacceptable."
As of Sunday, NSW drivers caught using their phones face camera detection, with mobile phone cameras now switched on. The new technology has been in warning mode since 1 December, with drivers now in line to face fines of $344 and five demerit points.
“We’re seeing more than 99 per cent of drivers doing the right thing, so when we compare this with the findings from the pilot last year, it is clear drivers are starting to get the message,” Minister for Roads Andrew Constance said.
“It’s important that drivers who continue to put the safety of themselves, passengers and the local community at risk realise that no matter where you are you could be caught and you will be fined.”
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