• 13 JUL 05
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    New Australian research on driving and hands-free mobile phones

    From Tower Sanity Alliance:

    Sydney Morning Herald

    Hands-free, but not crash-free

    By Julie Robotham Medical Editor
    July 13, 2005

    Hands-free mobile phones offer no protection against car accidents, according to world-first Australian research that plotted the call records of drivers involved in crashes.

    Drivers were four times more likely to crash while using a phone – whether they were holding it or not.

    The findings challenge the rationale for laws that permit motorists to make calls while driving only with hands-free devices. And they confirm a growing body of evidence that shows the mental distraction of phone conversations affects driving skills at least as much as physically handling the phone.

    The study’s leader, Mark Stevenson, said: “The road authorities need to reconsider the basis of legislation – there is overwhelming evidence it’s the distraction factor.”

    The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority said hand-held phones were identified as a possible contributor to 10 crashes in 2004 in which there were injuries, and a further 20 in which cars had to be towed away. But, said RTA spokeswoman Karen Smith, this was likely to be an underestimate.

    In the 18 months to June last year, 20,383 NSW drivers were fined for using a hand-held phone. The penalty is $231 and three demerit points.

    Professor Stevenson, director of the injury prevention and trauma care division at the University of Sydney’s George Institute for International Health, said there would be practical difficulties in policing any extension to the law. It was more important, he said, to change attitudes to using the phone while driving.

    The mobile phone firm Vodafone encourages workers to limit their phone calls while driving and warns them: “A conversation on a hands-free mobile phone may be more distracting than a conversation with a passenger in a vehicle with you. This is because your passenger will be aware of road conditions but a person who is talking with you on your hands-free phone will not.”

    Professor Stevenson’s study, conducted in Perth emergency departments, examined the phone records of 456 injured drivers and found 40 of them – 9 per cent – had used their mobile within 10 minutes before the crash. Only 3 per cent of the same drivers had been on the phone at comparable times of day during the previous week. Statistical analysis showed the risk of a crash was four times higher around the time of the phone call.

    Writing in the journal BMJ, Professor Stevenson said wireless and voice-activated phones might remove some distracting elements from calls but not the risk. “If this technology actually increases mobile phone use in cars, it could contribute to even more crashes.”


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