Young drivers use phones to avoid 'boredom' while on road

YOUNG motorists are using social media to break the boredom while they are driving - even on major highways, disturbing research shows.

And another study reveals a dangerous surge in overconfidence as learners pass their test and move on to P-plates, leading them to risk their lives by reading messages, texting and using mobile phone cameras, as well as making or taking calls.

Groundbreaking research by QUT's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety-Queensland found that eight in 10 drivers aged 17 to 25 admitted texting behind the wheel.

Just over half said they ­accessed Facebook, 40 per cent used Snapchat and about a quarter went on Instagram. A small number even used Skype or checked out dating app Tinder while driving.

"It is scary,'' Cassandra Gauld, leader of the CARRS-Q study, said.

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"With most of these apps, you need to actually handle the phones to use them. With additional functions on smartphones comes additional opportunity for distraction.

"It requires lots of attention - cognitive, physical and ­visual.''

The scene of a fatal crash where a moment’s distraction by a mobile phone ringing resulted in a dead motorcyclist, another in a wheelchair and a young woman jailed.
The scene of a fatal crash where a moment’s distraction by a mobile phone ringing resulted in a dead motorcyclist, another in a wheelchair and a young woman jailed. Michelle Gately


Young drivers make up just 12.4 per cent of the population, but 20 per cent of road crash fatalities. It is illegal for learners and provisional licence-holders to use a mobile phone at all, even hands-free.

But the message is not getting through. Two-thirds of the 288 youngsters in the CARRS-Q study said they monitored or read messages while driving between once and five times every day - and four in 10 replied.

Earlier stages of the research investigated motivation behind the use of smartphones by young drivers and the team is using the findings to develop targeted public education messages.

It found that peer pressure, and the need to assess the importance of incoming messages, was powerful.

"This critical belief indicates that young drivers are keen to keep up to date with friends, family and colleagues at all times, regardless of the risk involved,'' the research paper reported.


Statistics show the horrifying frequency of young drivers being distracted by phones.
Statistics show the horrifying frequency of young drivers being distracted by phones.

Alleviating boredom and saving time were also identified as factors encouraging younger motorists to turn to their devices. This was most often in slow-moving traffic, but some were ready to do so at high-speed.

"Specifically, some participants said they felt bored when stuck in traffic jams or driving on familiar freeways and believed that initiating social interactive technology would alleviate those feelings,'' the paper's authors said.

One participant told the researchers: "I know plenty of people who, when they are on the highway, just go nuts, you know, on their phones.''

Ms Gauld said studies had found it was not uncommon for young drivers to believe they were better drivers and more able to multitask.


The consequences are devastating for everyone.
The consequences are devastating for everyone. Michelle Gately

This is echoed in research conducted for The Sunday Mail/RACQ Words Can Hurt campaign to stop distracted driving by encouraging motorists to keep their mobile devices well out of reach while behind the wheel to remove temptation, and to boost enforcement.

It points to a worrying complacency once teenagers pass their driving test.

The perception of danger plummets sharply between learners and those on their P1 provisional plates for a range of risky behaviours, including reading texts, emails and social media posts, texting and using the phone camera as well as making or taking calls.

The RACQ study also highlights that younger motorists are much less likely than others to believe they are at risk of an accident while doing things like setting a satnav or GPS or selecting music on their phone while on the move.

Topics:  driving editors picks

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