French motorists will now be penalised for using their mobile phones in their cars even if they have stopped, pulled over or have the hazard lights on.
The ban imposed by a French Court means you could even be fined €135 (A$210), and cop three demerit points for touching your phone.
The new laws, which apply to calls, texting and other functions such as social media, music or navigation apps, came about after a driver appealed a fine he copped for using a phone while he was parked at a roundabout with his hazard lights on.
In order to change the rule the court had to redefine what driving means, and ruled that it’s anytime when sitting in the driver’s seat away from a designated parking spot, or somewhere off the road where it’s legal to park.
Exemptions apply for emergencies such as if you’re broken down on the side of the road.
The new rule only applies to touching handsets, even in cradles, with hands-free phone use allowed if the phone is synced to the vehicle’s infotainment or audio system – the French government had already banned drivers using so-called hands-free phone accessories, such as Bluetooth headsets, in 2015.
The French ruling goes well beyond Australian laws, which differ from state to state, but mostly allow for a phone to be operated hands-free while driving, if it’s in a fixed cradle.
But, as a 2017 Wheels special report showed, there is support for tougher laws here, like the ones introduced in France, as current regulations are failing to stop people being distracted by their phones behind the wheel.
It’s hoped the new laws will help reduce France’s growing road toll which, according to French news site The Local, reached 3469 in 2016 and has been on the rise since 2014 – the longest period of sustained increase since 1972.
But, as the Wheels report also found, lawmakers around the world are continually frustrated by drivers flouting existing laws by hiding phones while they use them, meaning even more time their eyes aren’t on the road.
“When laws came in banning texting in the US, they found that crashes were actually starting to increase, and they couldn’t figure out why,” Dr Cassandra Gaul, a research associate at the Centre for Accident & Road Safety at Queensland University told Wheels.
“What was suggested was drivers had continued to text, but were simply lowering the phones below the eyeline.”
“A couple of years ago the phone was up to the ear,” added Victoria’s top traffic cop, Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer. “Now what we are seeing is worse and more dangerous because they are now connecting through social media, through various applications, while the phone is in their lap. At a set of traffic lights, that’s dangerous. At 100km/h on a public road, it is fatal.”
Tougher laws could help create a culture where mobile phone use while driving is regarded as anti-social as driving while drunk. However, like the successful anti-drink driving campaigns, they need to be backed up by education, strong enforcement and heavy penalties.
As the Wheels report concluded, five key action points should be implemented to prevent mobile phone use in vehicles and the associated accidents. These include:
- Improved and increased awareness campaigns, targeted at changing public opinion to eliminate hand-held phone use entirely, not just focused on texting
- Smarter, more targeted enforcement via more police motorcycles in urban areas Increased crackdown through police blitzes akin to those targeting drink driving and speeding
- Harsher enforcement – increased fines and points losses
- Repeat offenders to face loss of licence, or data and signal blockers fitted to their vehicle in a similar vein to alcohol interlocks for repeat drink drivers.