As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

How Not To Use A Phone While Driving

They say that driving distracted is as bad as driving drunk when it comes to reducing your reaction times and making smart driving decisions.  Some distractions are beyond our control, such as half a swarm of bees flying through the open window (not making that one up – this happened to someone I know), a screaming child or a busting bladder.  However, using the phone is something that you can control.

We all know the rules.  Handsfree is the only way that you can do this legally and safely.  Putting the phone on your lap and glancing down so nobody knows that you’re using the phone is not an option. In fact, this is probably worse than having the thing openly visible up by the steering wheel in your hand – at least that way, you have half an eye on the road even if you do risk being spotted by the cops.  When the phone is on your lap, you have to take your eyes right off the road to look at it. Bad idea.

You’ve got to think beyond the stereotype of teenagers compulsively stuck on smartphones madly using social media, too.  Often, it’s adults who are at fault and who cause the accidents: “I can do it because that text, tweet or email might be really, really important for my work/family, and I’m a good experienced driver and I know the road and it’s not really busy and I’m used to multitasking and…”

Why do people compulsively check their phones while driving?  A lot of it probably comes down to standard cellphone etiquette: it’s considered bad form to not respond to someone who’s texted you, preferably as promptly as possible.  There’s always the thought at the back of our minds that the text that’s just come through might be something urgent – your significant other saying that he/she has locked the keys in the car and needs your help urgently, the school saying your child is sick, or a client from work trying to rearrange a meeting.

On the one side, you’ve got the fear of missing something urgent plus the desire to be polite.  On the other side, you’ve got the law and the desire to drive safely.  How are you going to resolve this one?

Go cold turkey

Even if the call is an emergency, you can wait a few minutes until you find a suitable place to pull over.  It is possible to leave the phone alone and not respond instantly.  Nobody is going to die.  If the situation is that urgent, the person in question should have dialled 000 rather than you.  Anyway, emergencies are few and far between, and there’s a chance that the text in question is going to be something along the lines of “3oclock Monday fine for meeting”.  Put the phone on silent and put it in the glovebox or somewhere you can’t reach it or see it, then ignore it.  It won’t kill you. However, texting while driving can kill you or someone else.  This is also one of the only two options for L-plate and P-plate drivers.

Hand it to the passenger

If you’ve often got people in the car with you, the person in the front seat can be your hands while you get on with the driving.  Your passenger can read out texts, send texts for you, look things up and give you information such as “Shirley’s sent you a hilarious picture on Instagram that you’ll have to look at later.” A strong-minded front seat passenger can also growl at you if you make a grab for the phone, or even physically stop you grabbing the phone, as suggested by this road safety ad from New Zealand:

Driving apps

Some apps solve the etiquette problem, meaning that the person on the other end of the text doesn’t think you’re rudely ignoring them.  These apps are similar to the automatic reply emails that you can set up when you’re on holiday but are more short-term.  Just before you start the engine, you turn the app on.  If someone texts you while you’re driving, the app will auto-reply saying that you are driving and will reply as soon as possible.  You can get them for iPhone and Android and several are free. Even the ones that aren’t free are a hang of a lot cheaper than a fine.  This is the other solution for L-platers and P-platers.

Other apps go a bit further than merely auto-responding.  Some block cellphone use while driving, are linked in with another device belonging to someone else for accountability purposes (e.g. a parent, significant other or boss, who get a notification if you do text and drive) and dish out rewards for appropriate behaviour (i.e. not using the phone while driving).


Going handsfree isn’t as hard as you think, especially if you have one of the newer Apple devices (which I don’t – I’ve got an older Android machine, so this isn’t an endorsement; however, I’ve seen my 19-year-old son’s Siri in action, especially after I started growling at him for texting while driving, which prompted the demo).  Siri and the Android equivalent (e.g. Robin) can read out your texts and you can dictate texts to them, all while your hands stay on the wheel and your eyes on the road.  This can lead to some interesting typos, or whatever you call the equivalent of speech recognition glitches, especially if you use that very common shorthand for seconds, “secs”.  Pop your phone in a suitable cradle and turn on the loudspeaker, then you’re good to go.

Full integration

In a heap of recent vehicles, the makers have realised that people want to stay connected and get those important calls and the like while on the road, especially in the case of contractors and people who travel for business.  Most vehicles come with full Bluetooth preparation and/or smartphone integration, basically turning your car into an extension of your device, so you can make those handsfree calls, send private messages on Facebook and get your texts read out by Siri or Robin.  Some of them also work in tandem with the driver aids and will shut down (so you’re less distracted) if it senses from your driving and all the other sensors that the traffic is getting heavy and things are getting a bit hairy.  These fully integrated “smartcars”, to coin a term, are also smart enough to refuse to let you go online and watch YouTube videos while the car is moving.

Jamming devices

Mobile phone jamming devices are illegal in Australia, so don’t even think about them.  Yes, you can block your own phone use while driving but you can also block everybody else’s phone use, including all the people who are using handsfree and Bluetooth integrated calling, and all passengers in your vicinity. You could also block someone’s emergency call to 000.


  1. Rod says:

    Hi, I am teaching my daughter to drive and understand that drink driving rules apply to me while I am instructing. Is this also the case for using my phone? In other words, if I handle my phone, read texts and/or make calls, am I breaking the law? I am in WA

    February 27th, 2017 at 6:08 pm

  2. sandy says:

    You’re fighting a losing battle. Only in-vehicle transmission blocking technology will succeed ie no transmission if engine is running. Linking it to handbrake activation can be by-passed. While riding a motorcycle, I saw an advanced septagenarian texting at traffic lights ; when I wagged my finger at him, he gave me the bird. A fine role model for his grandchildren. P-platers are the heaviest offenders, in my experience. That’s because they still know everything and are full of self-confidence and bravado. I only hope that if they insist on dying this way, they go solo.

    February 27th, 2017 at 6:10 pm

  3. Dave Conole says: I’d suggest contact RACWA or your local police station. Best of luck.

    February 28th, 2017 at 7:45 am

  4. Jim says:

    Stopped at a set of traffic lights in Sydney last week and heard “Bang”, “Bang”, “Bang” then thump as my car shot forward a couple of feet. I had a BMW embedded in my really big tow bar. He had a Hyundai in his boot and the Hyundai had a Cherokee in her boot. Miss Cherokee hadn’t quite finished the text when she hit the stationary car. Lucky all at probably 40kph so no injuries but four cars in a panel shop for a week and some seriously angry motorists.

    February 28th, 2017 at 9:22 am

  5. Sandy says:

    Stopped alongside a woman in her 60’s, texting at red traffic light.
    I beeped my horn and shook my head at her; she put the phone down, mouthed “Get F*&%#@*” and drove off at the green light. Kept glancing at her lap.
    I’ve also seen a woman of about 30 on Wakehurst Parkway at Sydney’s northern beaches, driving a range Rover with two children in the back, weaving on and off the road. At the end of the road, I saw she was texting. Obviously didn’t think much of her children’s safety. With parents like this, the young ones simply emulate.

    February 28th, 2017 at 11:48 pm