Employers may soon be reviewing their vehicle safety policies under planned new “technology-neutral” driver distraction road laws that would target everything from eating to applying make-up.
In its regulation impact statement, the National Transport Commission (NTC) says it has reviewed the Australian Road Rules regulating driver distraction and determined that they do not sufficiently address the key factors that cause driver distraction.
It says road laws have not kept pace with the convergence of the mobile phone and new technology devices, including smart watches and built-in multimedia displays.
As such, the NTC is looking to establish a “clear list of high-risk behaviours and interactions that drivers must avoid regardless of the technology involved or the source of distraction.”
On announcing the review in December last year, NTC acting CEO, Dr Geoff Allan, said driver distraction wasn’t as well understood as other factors such as drink driving and speeding.
“The road rules are silent on which behaviours associated with distraction should be avoided or minimised. It is also not clear whether the use of newer technologies, like wearable devices, are regulated by the existing road rules.”
He said the current rules prevented or limited the use of particular devices – mobile phones, visual display units and television receivers – while permitting their use as driver’s aids.
Distraction on the road
Distraction is a significant road safety risk that is not as well understood as other risk factors such as drink-driving and speeding. Studies have found that a task which takes a driver’s ‘eyes off the road’ for as little as two seconds can be particularly hazardous.
The Australian National Crash In-Depth Study investigated 340 crashes and found that distraction was present in 16 per cent of these crashes.
NTC Chief Executive Officer Gillian Miles said that new technology-related distractions, outdated rules and a general lack of understanding from road users present significant challenges.
‘Drivers engage in non-driving activities every 96 seconds while behind the wheel. Distractions take our concentration off the road which means we may not have time to react to hazards.”
The impact statement notes that employers play a crucial role in minimising driver distraction (and other road safety risks) through systematic approaches to managing risks where vehicles are used in the workplace.
A consultation period ends on August 21 and submissions can be made here. The NTC plans to deliver its recommendations to transport ministers for consideration in May 2020.