NRMA's answers to driver distraction as Hunter police say illegal use of mobile phones getting worse

BUSTED: A motorist is captured on camera using their phone while driving during the Newcastle Herald's roadside survey last month.
BUSTED: A motorist is captured on camera using their phone while driving during the Newcastle Herald's roadside survey last month.

TECHNOLOGY is the “missing link” to combat mobile phone use while driving, according to a new NRMA report, which has also recommended increased police detection of mobile phone use, scrapping “outdated” road rules and improving crash data.

The report, Can't Talk. Driving, released on Monday, comes a month after a Newcastle Herald roadside survey revealed worrying trends for illegal mobile phone use in the city.

And it comes after a highway patrol operation a fortnight ago revealed the New England Highway in Singleton to be a hotspot for driver distraction, with more fines issued there for motorists using a mobile phone while driving than any other location in the Hunter.

The report's release coincides with what the NRMA said is rapidly advancing mobile phone technology and saturated smartphone ownership.

According to a survey of 1000 NRMA members, 19 per cent admitted to reading a text message while driving, while 11 per cent admitted to sending a text message. Nearly a fifth of those surveyed confessed to using a hand-held phone while driving.

TROUBLING TECHNOLOGY: The NRMA's driver distraction report paints a worrying picture that veteran police say is getting worse.

TROUBLING TECHNOLOGY: The NRMA's driver distraction report paints a worrying picture that veteran police say is getting worse.

Young people were the biggest offenders, according to the report, with more than 40 per cent of people under the age of 26 involved in serious crashes found to be using a hand-held phone at the time.

The NRMA recommended increased use of technology, particularly through phone-disabling “do not disturb” apps, to combat the issue. It also called for government to encourage investment in in-car technology, which it called the “missing link”, and to test its effectiveness through research.

The report recommended that road rules be updated, including one written just three years ago, to account for new mobile phone features being developed at record pace.

ON THE PHONE: "People are not getting the message." A motorist with both hands off the wheel driving in a 60km/h zone on Newcastle Road at Jesmond in August. Police said the number of mobile phone offences observed was concerning.

ON THE PHONE: "People are not getting the message." A motorist with both hands off the wheel driving in a 60km/h zone on Newcastle Road at Jesmond in August. Police said the number of mobile phone offences observed was concerning.

Northern Region Traffic Tactician Chief Inspector Bruce McGregor said the report’s findings painted a “disturbing” picture.

He said Singleton had emerged as a troublesome area, with 58 fines issued during the last road blitz. 

“We’re increasing these totals each time,” he added.