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Mobile phones a distraction even if you do not answer

Hazard perception is a key element for safe driving.  When drivers are distracted, their ability to recognise and respond to hazards can be hindered, which can in turn lead to accidents. Mobile phones are one big distraction.

New research has found that a mobile phone ringing whilst you are driving is as big a distraction as actually answering the call.

Mobile phone use

In NSW you are only allowed to use the navigational, calling or audio functions of a mobile phone while driving, provided the mobile phone is either:

  • in a fixed mounting (which does not obscure view); or
  • operated through Bluetooth or voice activation without touching the phone.

Learners and P1 drivers are further restricted and are not permitted to use any function of a mobile phone while driving or while the vehicle ignition is switched on.

Other functions such as text messaging and emailing are never permissible unless a vehicle is properly parked with the ignition off.

In NSW, if you are caught using a mobile phone you will be fined $310.00 or $425.00 and you will lose 3 or 4 demerit points.  Demerit points result in an increase in the cost of your CTP green slip.

However, it appears that resisting the urge to answer your phone may not be enough to prevent driver distraction, according to new research out of Florida State University (FSU).

Hearing notifications enough to affect concentration

Researchers from FSU have found the distraction caused by either a sound or vibration notification was comparable to the act of actually making a call or sending a message.

“The level of how much it affected the task at hand was really shocking,” said Courtney Yehnert, research coordinator at FSU.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, and is the first of its kind to examine the link between notifications and cognitive performance.

“Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind-wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance,” stated the report.

The impact of the findings are especially pertinent to drivers, for whom a momentary distraction could result in a collision, or even a fatality on the road.

“Even a slight distraction can have severe, potentially life-threatening effects if that distraction occurs at the wrong time,” said lead author of the study Cary Stothart.

“When driving, it’s impossible to know when ‘the wrong time’ will occur. Our results suggest that it is safest for people to mute or turn off their phones and put them out of sight while driving.”

FSU reports that the research will be followed up by a study involving a driving simulator to gain a clearer understanding of the impact of notifications on driving performance.

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