In just 40 hours of monitoring, Benalla police issued infringement notices to 79 distracted drivers on the Hume Fwy last month as part of Operation Hands-Free.
While it is a well-known law, and in spite of an advertising campaign to ensure drivers know the rules around using a mobile device, the message seems to not be getting through.
Despite local people being well aware of the high number of crashes on the Hume in this area police say ‘‘a lot’’ of offenders were from the region and were travelling between Benalla and Wangaratta.
Senior Constable Mick De Sailly said the operation showed drivers still needed educating about the dangers of distracted driving.
‘‘The frequency of the offending was quite alarming, certainly in terms of the current strategy of road policing and the assistant commissioner’s direction in relation to distracted drivers,’’ Const De Sailly said.
‘‘Even though we were a bit proactive with that and came out with information on it about a month early it was pretty evident that what they’re saying in Melbourne is exactly what’s happening in Benalla.
‘‘We were roughly 10 metres from the side of the road in fluoro vests and still people didn’t see us, it’s not as if we hid. We just stood on the side of the road.’’
For drivers to not stop using a device when driving past highly visible police implies they either do not understand the law or were so distracted they had no idea what was going on around them.
Senior Constable De Sailly said an issue might be that people did not understand what police meant when they asked drivers not to use their mobile devices.
‘‘You don’t have to have the phone to your ear to be classed as using a phone while driving,’’ he said.
‘‘Most people we stopped said they were checking the time, or they were checking an app or using their navigator.
‘‘The reality is that you are not allowed to use your mobile phone unless it’s in a commercially made cradle of some description.
‘‘So the excuse that I’m just picking it up, or I’m just looking at the navigator is not acceptable.’’
With many mobile navigator apps available people could be excused for believing they could use them while driving.
However, without a commercial cradle, that is not the case and even having your mobile navigator sitting on the passenger seat or in a cup holder is not legal.
Senior Constable De Sailly said there was roughly a 50/50 split between car and truck drivers being caught and social media may play a major role as to why so many are checking their mobile device while driving.
‘‘When drivers are in cars and they’re on their own they tend to still want to be connected to some sort of social media,’’ he said.
‘‘Most of the drivers we intercepted were holding their phones and most were either texting or looking at their social media accounts and not looking up at the road.
‘‘When we talk about distracted drivers we’re not always talking about people having the phone to their ear, we’re talking about people who aren’t looking at the road at all.
‘‘We’re at the point now where the connection people seem to have with social media is almost an addiction.
‘‘From our point of view our message is to put it in the back of the car, in a handbag, or in the boot.
‘‘Have it away from you.
‘‘Connect the Bluetooth if you want to.
‘‘Certainly if you hold a full licence you can do that.
‘‘If you are on your Ps or Ls you can’t use it in any capacity at all.’’