Time to get tough on mobile phone use

Bicycle Network is calling for culpable driving causing death to be the charge for anyone who kills a person while using a mobile phone and driving.

Bendigo woman Billie Rodda was today sentenced to a three-year corrections order and 200 hours of unpaid community work for the charge of dangerous driving causing death after she killed professional cyclist Jason Lowndes at Mandurang in December 2017. 

While Ms Rodda, 22 years old, wasn't using her phone at the exact time of the crash she admitted that she had her mobile phone under her leg and had sent and received 18 text messages while driving in the lead-up to the crash.

Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said that stronger laws are needed to change public perception and make people realise that using a phone while driving a car is unacceptable.

“Today’s sentencing says to people that it’s really not that bad if you use a phone while driving, crash into someone and kill them,” said Mr Richards.

“We need stronger laws and tougher penalties that make people stop and think before they reach for the phone and take their eyes off the road. It should be treated the same as drink-driving.”

Bicycle Network has been calling for mobile phone use to be recognised as culpable driving since 2001 when Anthony Marsh was killed while riding when Silvia Ciach sending a text crashed into him. This has not happened and driver behaviour has got worse.

A survey by Bicycle Network in 2019 found that 97.8% of bike riders have seen someone use a mobile phone while driving, while government department BITRE predicts that Australian road deaths will increase by 14% by 2030 because of mobile phone use.

“The current laws are not stopping people from using a phone while driving. For some reason it’s more acceptable to use a phone while driving a car than it is as a passenger on a plane,” added Mr Richards.

As well as tougher laws and penalties that can be immediately implemented, Bicycle Network would also like to see other measures to stop and detect distracted driving including the development of in-car technology that can block mobile phone use.

Bicycle Network recommendations to address distracted driving

  • Higher penalties for distracted driving with consistency across states and territories.
  • The rapid roll out of hi-tech traffic camera technologies and legal reforms that make it easier for police to enforce distracted driving laws.
  • A national advertising campaign to highlight the kinds of distracted driving and their consequences.
  • Fast-track in-vehicle mobile phone blocking technologies and its mandated implementation across all new vehicles sold in Australia.
  • In-built opt-out ‘Do not disturb while driving’ apps automatically activated in all smartphones sold in Australia.
  • Implement autonomous vehicle technology in all new cars sold in Australia.
  • Establish a national crash database to track the causes of crashes and the impact of distracted driving.
  • Research into the motivations of distracted driving with a focus on smartphone use.

Click here to see Bicycle Network's distracted driving campaign page

Bicycle Network's thoughts are with the family and friends of Jason Lowndes and the wider bike riding community during this difficult time. 

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