Drivers May Be Allowed To Use Phones Behind The Wheel In New Road Rules

A review of road rules has been told motorists should be allowed to use their phones while driving, with one body calling for a loosening of very strict mobile rules.

Laws need to be updated as technology moves beyond current road rules, say automotive advocates, with new definitions to govern how laws on driver distraction and gadgets are considered.

In South Australia, current legislation around driver distractions and using mobile phones while driving were written in 1999 -- long before touchscreen smartphones were in existent. Similar legislation in all state jurisdictions was enacted at roughly the same time.

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The National Transport Committee (NTC) is undertaking a review on how to to update legislation around 'driver distraction', with a wide variety of submissions -- some calling for tougher rules, some for weaker ones.

Studies have shown that drivers taking their eyes off the road for just two seconds can be "particularly hazardous," the NTC said -- this could be to use their phone, adjust the radio, take a bite of food, or talk to a passenger.

New technology-related distractions, outdated rules and a general lack of understanding from road users need some updated road rules, said Gillian Miles, NTC Chief Executive Officer.

‘Drivers engage in non-driving activities every 96 seconds while behind the wheel," he said in a statement.

"Distractions take our concentration off the road which means we may not have time to react to hazards."

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The Royal Automobile Association of South Australia (RAA) agree, and has made a submission to the NTC that laws around mobile phones and driving should be relaxed.

But this submission isn't about allowing people to use their phones more frequently, , said Charles Mountain, RAA Senior Manager Road Safety -- it's about acknowledging technology has moved beyond current legislation.

"The old legislation is very specific about managing distractions, but technology has moved beyond this," Mountain told 10 daily.

New laws needs be future-proofed, he said, to ensure it keeps up with changing technologies and its uses.

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One area the RAA's submission focuses on is the use of mobiles for GPS navigation. Some people have specific GPS devices, but many rely on Google or Apple Maps to get around. This is despite many states expressly forbidding drivers from touching their phones, even if solely for navigation purposes.

In Victoria, for instance, legislation states a GPS device must not "require the driver at any time while using it, to press anything on the body of the phone or to otherwise manipulate any part of the body of the phone."

The RAA believes an overhaul of these laws is required.

"It is recommended therefore that GPS Units and mobile phones being used as a GPS (navigational aid) have uniform rules -- in relation to mounting correctly in a vehicle and with a total ban on drivers touching the unit while the vehicle is moving or is stationary but not parked," the RAA said in its submission.

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Mountain said punishments for drivers who use phone payment methods at restaurant drive-thrus are an area of legislation that ought be changed.

"That is not just sensible, to turn your engine off to pay with your phone," he said.

READ MORE: Why Paying At A Drive-Thru Could Cost You An Extra $484

Mobiles are increasingly being used for more than making calls or sending messages, and voice control technology.

"It is important to acknowledge that phones are capable of more functions than before... such as music streaming," said Mountain.

While driving legislation falls under state jurisdiction an there needs to be "national consistency" for drivers.

"There needs to be understanding for all drivers about what a distraction is," Mountain said.

Submissions to the NTC ended last week, and a regulation impact statement for transport ministers’ consideration will be delivered in May, 2020.