Mobiles and driving suit Volvo

A LEADING international safety expert has criticised calls to ban mobile phones from cars as unnecessary.

Thomas Broberg, a senior safety adviser with Swedish car maker Volvo, says the suggestion that Australia consider introducing a national ban on mobile phone use in cars would not be something his company — renowned for its focus on safety —  would support.

The Australian Transport Council has released a draft discussion paper looking at the steps it thinks Australia could take to cut its road toll by 30 per cent by the year 2020, with one proposal suggesting that mobile phones be banned from use in cars.

Interestingly, Volvo is working towards a much more ambitious road toll target with the Swedish government of zero road deaths by 2020, but according to Broberg, the argument that a hands-free mobile phone was too big a distraction in the car was not valid.

'‘Passengers are also a distraction in the car, so what do we do, ban them too?" Broberg said during a demonstration in Melbourne this week to highlight Volvo’s work on its world-first pedestrian avoidance system that can stop a car from running into an unwary pedestrian.

'‘There’s always other sources of distraction that we have to drive with. [Mobile phone use] in cars is always going to be a very tricky issue, but we need to educate and promote good behaviour rather than just ban things," he says.

"The policy should be that we promote the use of hands-free, but we at Volvo are not able to determine or effect what will be a political decision."

Broberg says Volvo’s mobile phone policy for its employees allows their use in cars, but only if they are assessed using a hands-free system. Even so, he admits the hands-free system could be better.

Already Volvo has technology that can delay some less important vehicle messages during busier or higher speed driving, allowing the driver to better concentrate on the road.

"Cell phone use is one of the areas we’re targeting, because looking away from the centre of the road increases the risk of a collision," he says.

"It’s interesting when you compare phone use with truck drivers on a walkie-talkie [UHF radio], because studies show that the truck drivers have a reduced risk of crashing when they’re using a walkie-talkie," he says. "We need to do more study on that."

The ATC discussion paper released last week, and designed to prompt discussion ahead of a revision of national road rules, proposes a range of reforms including banning mobile phones form cars, giving local councils access to speed cameras, permitting point-to-point speed cameras on toll roads, and lowering the blood alcohol limit to zero for all drivers.

The draft 10-year strategy seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads from its current rate of about 1500 deaths and 30,000 serious injuries by at least 30 per cent.

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