Campaign against distracted driving: People still using phone behind wheel in Flanders

Campaign against distracted driving: People still using phone behind wheel in Flanders
Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

The danger of using a mobile phone while driving is well-known, yet people in Flanders continue to distract themselves by using their devices behind the wheel, a recent survey found.

A law change that came into force last March saw the fine for drivers caught with their phone on their lap or on the passenger seat when driving rise by almost €60. Despite the new law, a recent survey by the Flemish Foundation for Traffic Knowledge (VSV) found that three in 10 Flemish drivers use their mobile phone almost every drive while the device is loose in the car.

However, when the phone is fixed to the dashboard as is required by the law, an even larger group (33%) still fiddle about with their devices. While doing so is technically legal, it is not safe, VSV warned on Monday.

"After all, for the few seconds you are looking at the screen, you are driving blind and cannot react if something unexpected suddenly happens. This visual distraction can be life-threatening for yourself and other road users," said Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters.

Campaign to crack down on smartphone use

Being distracted while driving is one of the five leading causes of fatal road accidents, while it is widely believed that distraction from the use of a smartphone is among the biggest dangers in traffic. The risk of being involved in an accident is almost four times higher when calling while driving.

Many people do decide to limit distractions by automatically connecting their phone to the car's screen or putting the device out of reach or on silent. Many do believe using a phone while driving is wrong, but not everyone follows their own advice: 84% say that texting while driving is dangerous or unacceptable, but 48% does it anyway.

Police crackdowns on these offences, both in checks and in the penalties that can be imposed, have already been tightened, and the use of smart cameras to further crack down on people using smartphones while driving is also on the table.

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Now, together with the VSV, Peeters is launching a new online and road poster campaign named "Focus on the road, not on your mobile phone," to help motorists stay focused in traffic. The message will also be seen on more than 500 petrol pumps and in underground car parks in Flanders until 26 February.

"A safe drive starts with good preparation. Set your route or put on your favourite music before you start driving. Then you will not only be safer but also much more comfortable on the road," said Werner De Dobbeleer (VSV). Once this has been done, VSV calls on people to put their device out of sight or place it in a fixed holder.

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