Smart drivers learn to use smartphone features to help them stay focussed on the road while driving.

The smartphone ownership rate in Australia is now one of the highest in the world with over half of all mobile phone users now using a smartphone.

This gives drivers the ability to minimise the need to take their eyes off the road by using some of the advanced features that now come standard on most handsets, such as voice-activated calling and one button dialling.

Naturalistic research has shown the major risks from mobile phone use while driving are the visually taxing tasks, such as texting and manually typing in phone numbers, which take drivers’ eyes off the road.

But voice-activation functions on most modern smartphones don’t require drivers to touch their phone to make or receive a call and one-button or screen-swipe dialling can also reduce the time drivers eyes are off the road. 

Vehicle manufacturers are also working to make mobile phone use safer while driving, with Bluetooth, hands-free and voice recognition technology now available in most new vehicles.

Hands-free and voice recognition software reduce risks

Research has shown that by making the most of smartphone features and new car technology drivers can make legal use of their phones in a safer and more responsible manner.

A 2009 study in the United States investigated the risks of using a hands-free device with voice activation and found drivers were actually less likely to crash when speaking on the phone.

The research used popular technology in the US called ‘OnStar’, which is built into vehicles and allows hands-free voice activated calls. The device also automatically places an emergency notification call to a call centre if the vehicle was involved in a crash in which its airbag deployed.

The study found in 30 months of naturalistic driving there were 91 million hands-free calls from an average of 323,994 drivers per month and 14 airbag deployments in 276 million driver-minutes of hands-free conversation.

Hands-free calls amongst nearly 3 million OnStar subscribers actually lowered crash risk to 0.62 (i.e. had a protective effect) compared to driving without making a call.

However, legal hands-free phone use is not appropriate in all road and traffic situations and drivers should consider whether to make calls in heavy traffic, at intersections or in bad weather or poor road conditions.

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