Hundreds of people will be killed or seriously injured on WA roads in the next five years because drivers are distracted and treat their cars as an extension of their living rooms, a road safety expert has warned.
A major study by the Monash Injury Research Institute, which analysed 340 serious crashes in Victoria and NSW between 2000 and 2011, found distraction contributed to 16 per cent of crashes.
Though the biggest source of driver distraction was passengers, the paper singled out technology-based distractions such as mobile phones and GPS devices as increasing causes of collisions.
One of the authors, Michael Fitzharris, said the number of “technology distracted” crashes could one day rival the number of accidents as a result of drunk drivers.
“As technology comes into the vehicle more and more and people bring and use it in the vehicle more and more that will, I think, start to become a very significant factor that could well rival intoxication and fatigue,” he said.
Dr Fitzharris said using the data and presuming current rates of distracted collisions stayed constant, at least 238 people would die or be seriously injured on Victorian roads over the next five years as a result of mobile phone use.
“People sometimes see their vehicle as an extension of a living room as opposed to a one and a half tonne piece of metal that goes at 60km/h, and sometimes people don’t fully appreciate the risk as well,” he said.
It was hard to calculate how many on WA roads would fall victim to technology-driven distractions but the issues in the study would probably be the same across the country, Dr Fitzharris said.
According to the WA Road Safety Council, distraction is estimated to play a role in about 30 per cent of fatal and serious accidents in WA.
Examples of distraction include passengers, fatigue, feeling ill, eating and adjusting the car’s sound system or air-conditioning.
The council’s chairman, Murray Lampard, said it would assess the Monash report conclusions for its likely benefits and costs before possibly presenting it to the Government for consideration.
He said developments in technology and in-vehicle improvements could one day save lives.
“It is likely that developments in technology and in-vehicle improvements will provide assistance to the driver to avoid distractions,” Professor Lampard said.