Lax laws let drivers eat, read and do make-up

DRIVERS have been caught on camera applying make-up, eating breakfast and even studying textbooks behind the wheel - but what's crazy is that they're not necessarily breaking the law.

While simply touching a mobile phone in a vehicle can draw a heavy fine and loss of licence points, it is not illegal for drivers to treat their cars like a bedroom, bathroom or even a study thanks to a legal loophole.

And that's what they are doing as photographs taken by The Daily Telegraph on some of Sydney's busiest roads last week illustrate.

Drivers were snapped reading books, eating breakfast or brushing their hair.

Catching up with reading on Manly Rd yesterday. Picture: John Grainger
Catching up with reading on Manly Rd yesterday. Picture: John Grainger

One woman was seen fixing her lipstick during the morning commute on Sydney Rd in Manly, while another man balanced an open textbook on his steering wheel.

Across town in South Dowling St a driver scoffed his breakfast with one hand on the wheel and the other grasping a sandwich.

Other pictures taken by a traffic monitoring company show drivers with bowls of cereal in their laps.

 

The bizarre behaviour is regulated by the Australia Road Rules, part of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which only states that "drivers must have proper view and control of the vehicle and drive in a reasonable and prudent manner" which is the test for negligent driving.

Police can fine drivers for driving erratically.

For one Victorian driver, watching porn on an in-car screen while on a morning commute was deemed a bookable offence by police.

Latest NSW crime data shows a spike in the number of drivers charged by police for looking at screens other than mobile phones last financial year. There were 174 visual display unit offences recorded in the 12 months to July compared to only 125 in the same time period last year - representing an increase of 39.2 per cent.

A 2015 study by the Griffith Health Institute found that eating behind the wheel is almost as distracting as texting when it comes to a driver's lane position control and reaction time.

A driver eats an apple in slow traffic on South Dowling St. Picture: John Grainger
A driver eats an apple in slow traffic on South Dowling St. Picture: John Grainger

Traffic and Highway Patrol chief inspector Phil Brooks slammed the behaviour of distracted drivers, saying people need to take greater care in order to drive down the state's road toll.

"Any action that takes your eyes off the road is distraction," he said.

"Eating, putting on makeup, having conversations with other passengers, in-car technology - all can be distracting.

"We want road users, drivers, riders, cyclists and pedestrians to keep their eyes on the road at all times, be aware of others and share the road safely.

"The key issue is personal responsibility … with the road toll currently at 219, clearly, road users need to do more and help police drive down the road toll."

Reading material on this driver’s steering wheel on Manly Rd. Picture: John Grainger
Reading material on this driver’s steering wheel on Manly Rd. Picture: John Grainger

A recent survey by finder.com.au of 1800 Australian drivers found 70 per cent admitted to participating in potentially dangerous activities while behind the wheel.

University of NSW road safety researcher Julie Hatfield said drivers endangered themselves and others when they tried to multitask.

"I think it comes back to a broader cultural issue in terms of wanting to do everything now and cramming as much as possible into our day," she said.

"People are often in a hurry and they haven't had time to put on their makeup."

 

When you see this sign post next to our stories here on the website or inside the newspaper, stop and think for a moment about how you can drive safer
When you see this sign post next to our stories here on the website or inside the newspaper, stop and think for a moment about how you can drive safer

Dr Hatfield said drivers did not realise the risks when their attention was diverted from the road.

"Very few people will apply makeup in what they perceive to be a dangerous situation," she said. "They do it at traffic lights or when they're travelling slowly.

A snack for a truckie on South Dowling St. Picture: John Grainger
A snack for a truckie on South Dowling St. Picture: John Grainger

"The problem is that people's perceptions of when they're safe are not reliable.

"There are circumstances when you're driving and you feel nothing bad is going to happen and then an unexpected event happens."

Transport for NSW data revealed 91 people were killed in crashes involving distraction between 2012 and 2016.

"At 60km/h a car travels 33 metres in two seconds," a Transport for NSW spokesman said. "Take your eyes off the road for a few seconds and you continue to travel virtually blind."

Roads Minister Melinda Pavey claimed there was little governments could do.

Checking a mobile while driving on Manly Rd. Picture: John Grainger
Checking a mobile while driving on Manly Rd. Picture: John Grainger

"We can only regulate so much. If police see all these people doing all these stupid things there are good laws around that, but at the end of the day it's about common sense," she said.

Asked if the government would look at its messaging Ms Pavey said "certainly".

But she added: "We've got record numbers of highway patrol but this is more than just the big stick, it's about people switching on their minds as well as their car. People don't respect them when we lecture them and point our finger."

The latest police data also showed mobile phone offences are increasing across the state.

There were 42,122 offences in the 12 months to July compared to 40,961 offences in the same time period last year. The worst suburb for drivers using mobile phones was Sydney followed by Waterloo and Parramatta.



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