Road safety experts want Australia's road rules changed to ban any distraction in a car that lasts longer than two seconds.
As a key advisory body prepares recommendations to government about future national road rules around driver distraction, academics from the Monash University's Accident Research Centre have proposed a driver warning or intervention if a distraction lasts more than two seconds.
Distraction, often as a result of portable device or mobile phone use, is regarded as one of the most significant contributors to road trauma throughout the world and is steadily increasing as more features are added to vehicles.
With Australia's national road rules still imbedded in the pre-smartphone era, state and territory governments are now seeking guidance from the National Transport Commission on how they can reduce distraction-related crashes but not in a way which will lock out any emerging and potentially life-saving vehicle technologies.
The big question centres around whether to modify national rule 300, a prescriptive regulation which makes it illegal to physically handle a smartphone while driving.
Bluetooth phone connectivity, voice-to-text and voice-activated calling have helped solve the problem of handling a phone or texting while driving but without a national standard, car makers can't be forced into line on a uniform approach.
Queensland's transport and main roads department is leading a national project on driver distraction which will inform the next national regulations. It is developing a range of "intervention" options which will be presented later this year.
Driving laws passed in the ACT recently now conform with those of NSW, making it illegal for learners and P-platers to use a smartphone in any way while driving.
Fully licensed drivers are given more leeway but meanwhile the road trauma associated with distraction continues to rise.
In a recent Queensland study, two-thirds of all drivers admitted to using their mobile phone.
"Many drivers have an actual or perceived need to remain connected with their social and work network," the Queensland transport study found.
"Drivers make a risk-reward calculation when choosing to use a device while driving. Drivers are rewarded when engaging with this network, including answering calls, surfing the web or posting on social media.
"They balance this reward against their perceived risk of having a crash."
NRMA research has found that using a mobile phone while driving increases your risk of a crash four-fold and drivers who glance away from the road for more than two seconds are twice as likely to have a crash, or a near-crash.
In their submission, Monash University Professors Tim Horberry and Judith Charlton and research fellow Dr Kristie Young want the national road rules rewritten to enforce the two-second rule but acknowledge that it would be difficult to enforce without, ironically, the help of in-car technology.
"The use of in-vehicle monitoring systems and workload managers could help to manage or advise drivers when they are breaching the 2.0-second criterion," the submission states.
"These can be either from the original equipment manufacturers or purchased as an aftermarket system."
Canberra-based technology company Seeing Machines is one of several companies that already produces a real-time driver fatigue and distraction system using in-cabin cameras to track eye and face movements. It has already proved a major safety asset as a retro-fitted device on trucking fleets.
Prestige car makers have been offering alert systems for driver drowsiness and fatigue for more than a decade but dealing with distraction is much more of a complex matter because their research tells them customers want more "smart" but potentially distracting features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
In Britain, the bipartisan Transport Committee, which recommends legislation to the parliament, has called for a complete overhaul on current laws covering mobile phone use in vehicles to make it as "socially unacceptable as drink-driving".
The chair of the committee, Lilian Greenwood, said there was "a misleading impression that hands-free use [of smartphones] is safe".
"The reality is that any use of a phone distracts from a driver's ability to pay full attention and the government should consider extending the ban to reflect this."