In 2008, a Victorian woman was tragically killed in a Volkswagen when her vehicle decelerated, hitting the truck behind her before hitting a wall. The crash led to a massive recall of Volkswagen vehicles, but now the Victorian Coroner is saying it was her smartphone to blame, and that cars should have smartphone blocking technology in one of the country’s most populated states.
Melissa Anne Ryan was killed in 2008 by what was then thought to be a faulty Volkswagen Golf GTi that decelerated after losing power, causing the accident. The claims led to a 25,000-car recall by Volkswagen in Australia.
After a lengthy hearing and investigation, the Coroner has found (PDF) that Ryan’s mobile phone conversation distracted her, leading to the accident.
It’s these findings that have led the Coroner to lash out against the use of mobile phones on Victorian roads, calling for further research into technology that would prevent drivers wholesale from using their phones during the operation of a motor vehicle.
In her recommendations to VicRoads, the Coroner wrote (emphasis added):
1. Section 300(1) of the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Vic) permits drivers to use a mobile phone whilst underway if the body of the phone is secured in a mounting affixed to the vehicle or is not being held or manipulated by the driver. This does not reflect the scientific research evidence that has shown the risk of crashing whilse using hands-free is equal to that of hand-held use of mobile phones. Amending the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 to extend the regulations prohibiting the use of mobile hones to hands-free use by drivers while operating a vehicle is worthy of consideration by VicRoads given the body of research evidence now available.
2. It is also recognised that enforcement of legislation on mobile phone use is difficult, and requires ongoing effort by Victoria Police and the courts who already spend considerable resource on traffic-related offences to reduce the risk of death and injury on our roads. To overcome this, the development of in-vehicle technologies to pervent drivers from using a mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle should be the subject of further research
The recommendation is broad enough that the Victorian authorities could take action to ban drivers from touching or using any mobile device, such as GPS, an MP3 player or voice-activated gadgets while driving, or lead to the development of technology that would physically block it while driving.
We agree that smartphones shouldn’t be used while you drive, but this law needs to be developed very carefully.