Commercial TV networks are afraid, very afraid. So scared that they’re taking stock of why previous sure-fire ratings for once-hot TV winners like The Voice and The X-Factor are seeing viewers vanish by hundreds of thousands steadily. TV saturation? Boredom? I think they forgot one more thing—technology. In the form of the smart phone invading our living rooms. Wait, make that bedrooms too since new studies in popular media culture published a new term called ‘technoference’—a third world problem including becoming a real major intrusion and breakup factor in our marriages and romantic relationships caused by addiction to smartphone usage.

Love and TV seem to be going out the window faster than we can download our new phone apps. I wonder why hasn’t there been a new reality show centred on people’s obsession with connectivity via their mobile devices. How about a deadly plot to foil these device-obsessed housemates by offering all sorts of distractions (human and other wise) and have viewers hold their breath while biting their nails to spot the the first contestant to peel their eyes off their mobile screens? The one who blinks first will get voted out. Brilliant. It’ll be one tough fight to watch.

Most Australians surveyed reckon they’ll sooner give up their TV-watching than their smartphones. Did you know that Australia has the highest number of smartphone users than most other developed nations including US, UK, Germany and France? (data compiled by Google’s marketing research arm, Ipsos). Only rivalled by the United Arab Emirates (73.8%), Korea (73%), Singapore (71.7%) and Norway (67.5%).

Crash test dummy looking at broken blue car

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Text & Drive Statistics

Hardly surprising then as more tragic findings emerge with new statistics pointing another finger at mobile phone usage (inclusive of texting and other distractions caused by smart phone usage) for being responsible for more than a third of all the 270 road fatalities in Queensland in 2012 alone (Courier Mail, Sept 2012). In February 2014, texting, surfing the Net or yakking on the phone while driving has all become some of the top five causes of fatalities in NSW alone(Drive, Feb 2014).

In Queensland, mobile phone distractions have been championed by the Newman Government and have been officially added to the ‘fatal four’ to create the now ‘fatal five’. The list comprises of the main causes of fatal crashes in Queensland: speeding, drink and drug driving, driving without seat belts fastened, driver fatigue and the new kid on the block, distraction and inattention.

Chilling reports see police officers and ambulances arriving at fatal crashes to find mobile phones in wreckages with loved ones still oblivious to the tragedy that awaits them while they are still frantically calling out for a response from the silent injured driver on the other end of the line.

Text & Drive Laws

Is your phone the new love of your life to the point that you’re inseparable even when you’re driving? If the answer is yes, be forewarned that ‘till death do us part’ can become a chilling prophecy. There is a nationwide intensified crackdown on distracted motorists who endanger not just themselves but others with their needless bad phone habits. In serious traffic incident investigations today, police are taking out warrants to carry out checks with communication carriers to determine if the driver was using their phone at the time the crash happened and for the most part, that has unfortunately been the case.

So what exactly does the law say regarding using our mobile phones while driving? In summary, all activities to do with using our phones that will distract us and cause inattention including chatting, texting,playing games,taking photos or videos or using any other function on your mobile is illegal. Can you use it when your vehicle is stationary at the light stops? The answer is a big No. You face an on-the-spot fine and may incur demerit points if pulled over. There are even stricter controls on holders of P1 and learner drivers and riders who face a ‘zero tolerance’ prohibition ban on mobile phone usage when driving, even if using a hands-free phone.

Most drivers seem naive or oblivious to the dangers of their foolishness— for example, choosing instead the amusement of directing their minds to reliving the weekend’s exploits with their mates with one hand on their phone and the other on the wheel, rather than ensuring they will get home in one piece. Few seem to be aware that this terrible habit of using a mobile phone while driving can increase their risk of a crash by as many as four-folds.

It’s been a tough fight for the transport authorities joining hands with road safety groups and coalitions formed by grieving relatives and even mobile service providers uniting in a bid to prevent mounting traffic fatalities caused by drivers using mobile phones. Even when the laws keep tightening and the fines keep rising, and despite the dangers and illegality, approximately 25% of recently surveyed Queensland drivers reported using their hand-held mobile phones on a daily basis to make or answer calls, read text messages, while 14% reportedly text while driving.

Many families of the victims share that the trivial nature of some of these last text messages in the preceding moments of the accident made the deaths harder to accept. A smiley face emoticon, “just finished work, what’s crankin?” are few examples of real life last texted messages.

Younger drivers are reportedly the most guilty lot when it comes to texting while driving, and it has clearly emerged that safety campaigns should be targeting texting where the focus should also be, not just on chatting on phones while driving. Other distractions include trying to operate GPS units, eating while driving and applying make-up.

I’m not sure what is wrong with these people but if I had the privilege of choosing my last meal, it definitely won’t be one so mundane as to be easily consumed while driving, and as morbid as it sounds, I’d prefer not to have helped a mortician’s job get easier by applying my last stroke of lipstick while being behind the wheel.

If technology is killing us, technology could also ideally provide the antidote. Vic Roads has designed an ingenious phone app on Android phones that will silence all incoming calls and text messages while we are driving. It will even send a message on your behalf to let callers and text message senders be aware you are driving and were unable to attend to all calls and messages. It provides a summary of all calls and messages you received during your trip. What a marvellous idea. Now we only have to await for similar apps to be available on iPhones and in all states. Another leap of technology on the horizon is the self driving car. Should we see this come into popularity and mass production, we may see a shift of laws regarding the use of mobile phones whilst driving.

Meanwhile, if we can do the decent thing to switch off our mobile phones on planes, before live performances, presentation talks, in places of worship or during the screening of films, I don’t see why we people won’t do ourselves a favour by doing the same before we drive off as a new habit to master for the new year. I reckon it will stop us from picking up our last phone call, or looking at our last text message, or sending our last one as an unplanned farewell. Don’t become a crash test dummy. Did I say crash test? I really meant to say ‘crash text dummy’.

Few will disagree that those who use their smartphones while driving are…not that smart.

Committed to carrying out your new year resolution to make better, smarter choices? Why not start with being a smarter shopper for your financing options and speak to us at 360 Finance on how we can assist you with your next car loan. Get started today by ringing us at 1300 361 360.