ECHUCA’S top traffic cop is appealing to drivers to stop using their mobile phones while behind the wheel — or risk paying the ultimate price.
His plea comes as new TAC research found almost half of Victorians under the age of 30 have used their phone when driving.
Unfortunately, these figures are just as bad in the Echuca area.
Sergeant Paul Nicoll of Campaspe Highway Patrol said driving while using a mobile phone was all too common on our roads.
‘‘Many people hide their phones below the window line so police and others can’t see what they are doing,’’ he said.
‘‘We usually get two or three per week which is probably a low figure but not unreasonable for a rural highway patrol.
‘‘If we were a highway patrol with a highly urban area, I know our figures would be a lot higher because when I go to Melbourne in my own car I constantly see people on their phones or looking down in their laps. I have no doubt they are working on their phones when they are looking down doing the head bob.’’
Not surprisingly, our main culprits are younger drivers — men and women.
‘‘It seems to be becoming more prevalent now amongst the younger generation who just can’t keep their hands off their phones,’’ Sgt Nicoll said.
‘‘Up this way we also get a lot of tradies, workmen and farmers who are doing business whilst driving.’’
And this is a huge concern for police.
‘‘Driving is an activity that needs total concentration and attention. The failure to do this can be fatal,’’ Sgt Nicoll said.
‘‘Distraction of any sort causes collisions and my understanding is that phones are far more distracting than say kids fighting, or talking to passengers or eating or drinking in the car. You become totally absorbed in your phone which means your mind is not on the road.
‘‘I am aware of some fatals in our area that were attributed to phones and I suspect there are plenty we go to where the driver refuses to admit they were distracted by a phone.’’
The TAC findings coincide with the release of a new documentary highlighting people’s increased dependence on mobile phones.
It’s People Like Us follows five young Victorians over three weeks, who have found themselves drawn into their screens at the expense of common sense and safety.
Sgt Nicoll urged all drivers to watch the documentary.
‘‘The only thing missing was footage of mangled and burnt bodies of those that didn’t heed this message and paid the ultimate price for their ridiculous addiction to their mobile phones,’’ he said.
‘‘If I had the ability or was allowed to show them pictures of the dead and mangled people in car accidents who ended up like that because they were distracted, then maybe they wouldn’t use their phones.’’
TAC chief executive Joe Calafiore said with the average Australians checking their phone more than 150 times a day, people were putting their lives and the lives of others at risk, sometimes without even realising.
‘‘Many people don’t see using their phone behind the wheel as dangerous, until they see someone else doing it,’’ he said.
Mr Calafiore said taking your eyes off the road for two seconds doubled the risk of crashing.
‘‘Glancing at a phone for just two seconds while driving at 50km/h means travelling blind for 30m,’’ he said.
And although hands free is permitted, Sgt Nicoll said that could still be distracting.
‘‘I would recommend pulling over and having the conversation. You can’t facebook or message using hands free which is what a lot are doing whilst driving,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s also an extremely poor example to children who are likely to continue the behaviour when they grow older.’’