Opinion: If drivers won’t put it down, why not block phone signal?

By: Cobey Bartels

All the talk in the heavy vehicle industry recently of autonomous vehicles, platooning, driver-aid systems and so on has got me thinking

Opinion: If drivers won’t put it down, why not block phone signal?
Is putting the phone down all too hard for some motorists? Seems to be.


All in the name of safety we’re told, but wait a second, has everybody forgotten that the lighter vehicle is at fault in 93 percent of fatal heavy vehicle crashes involving a car.

Why is the heavy vehicle driver hit with driver-facing cameras, stringent fatigue management schemes and an unprecedented level of enforcement, all while the average car driver seems to get off scot-free?

I’m not saying the safety features offered in modern heavy vehicles aren’t saving lives and improving overall road safety, but surely things like phone signal blockers could prove useful in cars.

Now, people are going to argue that Uber drivers rely on phone signal and many cars these days have phone integration services like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

In cases where data and phone use is required for commercial use, say for a courier or an Uber driver, I’m sure an exemption system could be put in place.

In the case of in-built systems like CarPlay, perhaps they could negate the need for blocker devices because the integrated functionality is often easier to use than picking up your phone to use.

The point is, driver distraction is a problem and enforcement doesn’t seem to deter what seems like every second driver on their phone.

A colleague at ATN recently spoke with associate professor of transport and road safety research at the University of New South Wales, Teresa Senserrick, who alerted us to the fact that road fatalities have reversed their downward trend.

The age group most concerning is new licence holders, P-platers, because as Senserrick highlighted in a 2015 paper on young driver crashes, "newly licensed drivers of any age have the highest risk of crashing in the months following the (very safe) learner period."

Senserrick pointed to the NSW Centre for Road Safety interactive crash statistics website, which shows a fall from 2015 in all NSW female fatalities in the 17-20-year-old bracket but a huge spike for males of that age.

Another troubling reality is that NTI’s 2017 Major Accident Investigation Report found that while 93% of major heavy vehicle crash fatalities were the fault of the lighter vehicle, an alarming percentage were females under the age of 21. Thirty six percent of the at-fault light vehicle drivers were females, and a staggering 63 percent of those females were under 21.

I don’t want to pick on young drivers, but I do the majority of my commuting on a motorcycle, and I see a lot of people using their phones in their lap. Sadly P-platers seem to be the worst for it, subjectively speaking.

I tend to see some of the most questionable driving behaviour from young drivers, and distraction is often what it comes down to.

A few weeks back I almost ended up through the back window of a Yaris, which unsurprisingly, had a P-plate displayed in the back window that my face got so close to.

The driver apologised at the set of lights a little further down the road, and was clearly a bit shaken by how close they knew they’d gotten to cleaning me up.

But, why did they pull out at the very last minute while a motorcycle, closely followed by a car, was moving along at 60km/h?

They were not looking up and I highly suspect they were multi-tasking as they pulled out based on where I saw their eyes looking.

Changing a song or finishing off a text, who knows? I could be wrong, but the driver was looking down into their lap.

We know that driver distraction is causing accidents, we also know P-platers are an at-risk group, and that car drivers are at fault in the majority of heavy vehicle major fatal accidents – so why aren’t we implementing existing technology into cars that has the potential to improve overall road safety?

Police are out there enforcing phone use, yet we have the technology to block in-car signal. At least for at-risk groups like new licence holders.

Cost is a factor, but come on, a 2015 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) report estimated the total economic impact of road crashes is around $27 billion per annum.

If I’m sick to death of seeing people using their mobile phones out on the road, and I spend a fraction of the time driving that most Aussie truckies do, I’m sure it must drive you mad.

Particularly when you can’t do anything without consulting with your work diary, while the driver-facing camera light blinks at you and the telematics system logs your every move. 

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