Date: August 04 2012
More than 60 per cent of drivers charged during the latest NSW police operation, on July 11, were booked for mobile phone-related offences.
And it is younger drivers who are taking the biggest risks, according to NSW police figures.
Since 2007 the number of learner and provisional drivers fined for using a phone while driving has almost quadrupled.
Phone use when driving is becoming a ''very significant factor in accidents and fatal collisions,'' said Inspector Phillip Brooks, operations manager for NSW Traffic and Highway Patrol.
He said using a mobile phone while driving needs to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
''We've had two recent fatalities here [in NSW] where the drivers involved have been seen with their heads down texting away and then upon the incident occurring, phones have been recovered with half-written text messages on them,'' Inspector Brooks said.
In one of those accidents, the car hit a truck head-on despite the truck driver flashing his lights and beeping his horn; the truck driver told police the driver of the car didn't look up from his phone.
To enforce the law - which prohibits the use of a mobile phone in a car unless it is fitted to an approved hands-free device - police must witness a driver using the phone illegally.
An increasing safety issue is emerging as car companies provide technology to integrate smartphones into new models which allow hands-free use for a host of functions including email and social media, which police say can compromise concentration.
Professor Mark Stevenson, director of the Accident Research Centre at Melbourne's Monash University, said action needed to be taken to reverse the trend.
''If we're not … putting systems in place that prevent a level of information and communication occurring inside the vehicle, then we've got a global problem,'' Professor Stevenson said.
Inspector Brooks believes the most effective way to cut phone use in cars is not with technology, but with attitude change.
''I think the challenge for us is to make it socially unacceptable. We've done it with drink driving,'' he said.
Using a mobile phone while driving carries a $265 fine and three demerit points in NSW, increasing to $355 and four demerit points if caught in a school zone.
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