Caught red-handed risking death: Distracted drivers cause havoc on WA roads

Josh Zimmerman
perthnow.com.au

MORE than just a danger to life and limb, distracted drivers are likely proving disastrous for family budgets across the country.

With smartphones now ubiquitous, almost as common is the sight of their owners scrolling through Facebook feeds or replying to text messages behind the wheel.

Inattentive driving resulted in 26 fatalities on WA roads last year, double the previous five-year average.

According to Road Safety Commission research, 57 per cent of WA drivers admit to texting while driving.

RSC acting commissioner Iain Cameron said mobile phones were a relatively recent challenge.

“People’s risk appreciation is quite low and they don’t believe it will happen to them,” he said.

“About 70 per cent of all of our serious crashes are somebody momentarily making a mistake, picking up the mobile phone or whatever.

“They’re not deliberately engaging in high-risk behaviour such as speeding or drink-driving.”
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In an illustration of how widespread the bad mobile phone habits have become, The Sunday Times this week captured numerous motorists at traffic hotspots across the city who were using their phones.

While drivers seldom disclose being distracted by their phone when lodging a claim, Canstar group executive for financial services Steve Mickenbecker said he had little doubt the bad habit was driving up car insurance premiums.

According to the financial comparison site, WA premiums jumped between 5 and 19.5 per cent last week — with families with young drivers and 30 to 49-year-olds stung hardest.

“While the data isn’t great on the number of accidents where distracted driving is a causal factor, all State governments have brought in fines and launched huge educational programs to address the issue,” he said.

“That doesn’t happen if it wasn’t causing serious loss to property and to life.”

Both Mr Mickenbecker and an RAC spokeswoman said insurers did not keep records on the number of claims they received relating to distracted driving.

“When there is a fatality there is a full-on investigation and court orders to check phone records to establish if the driver was distracted, but that doesn’t happen in a regular bread-and-butter prang with some panels broken,” the Canstar executive said.

“With no loss of life police rarely get involved and so statistics don’t capture the size of the problem.”

The WA Insurance Commission, which deals only with motor injury insurance, reported a decrease in the number of claims to cover medical bills over the past decade. Commission secretary Kane Blackman said the high number of insured vehicles in the State (2.9 million including caravans and trailers) also helped apply downward pressure to compulsory motor injury insurance premiums.

That would suggest an increase in the number of less serious crashes is fuelling the jump in private insurance premiums.

Mr Mickenbecker pointed to the number of teens and 30-somethings walking around while texting.

“Hopefully when they get behind the wheel they are not quite as prolific but frankly I think we have a whole generation of people who find it extremely difficult not to look at their phone when it goes off,” he said.

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