'Life-threatening': 5% of Brussels drivers use mobile phones behind wheel

'Life-threatening': 5% of Brussels drivers use mobile phones behind wheel
A man using his mobile phone while driving. Credit: Belga/ Benoit Doppagne

Drivers still spend 2% of their time behind the wheel holding an electronic device in their hand, despite the more stringent rules that were introduced earlier this year. In Brussels, this figure is as high as 5%.

Observations carried out by road safety institute Vias over two months in 161 locations across the country showed that, at the time of observation, 2% of the drivers were busy using some form of electronic device with a screen. In half of all cases, the person was typing a message or reading, while a quarter of such violations involved the person calling without a hands-free device.

"Driving and using your mobile phone do not go together: it is life-threatening, not only for yourself but also for others. This study clearly brings that clearly to light," said Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for Mobility. "Every traffic death is one too many."

Among van and truck drivers, this figure is even higher (4% and 6%, respectively). Drivers in Belgium are also more likely to be distracted on the motorway (5%) than in residential areas (2%). "This is probably because the driving task there is more monotonous and because the likelihood of a conflict with a cyclist or pedestrian is lower," Vias noted.

However, the risk remains high. If a person on the motorway looks at a mobile phone for five seconds, they travel more than 160 metres and are also no longer able to brake in time or slow to the right speed during traffic or roadworks.

More actively engaged on phones

A similar test was conducted almost ten years ago when 3% of observed drivers were found making a call or sending a text while on the road. The decrease in the last decade is explained largely by the fact that Bluetooth systems are now much more widely used.

However, when drivers are looking at their mobile phones for longer periods now (59% now compared to 38% in 2013), meaning people are increasingly sending a message, reading or scrolling rather than making a call with their mobile phone in hand.

"This is not a good evolution for road safety. The risk of an accident occurring doubles when a person is making a phone call with their mobile device in hand, while the risk increases by a factor of 12 when the driver is reading a text or typing on the device," Vias noted.

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The organisation stressed that the use of mobile phones behind the wheel is still common on Belgian roads. To combat this, Vias is calling for the deployment of more CCTV cameras on roads to help increase the chance of drivers being caught.

Gilkinet confirmed that a test project on the use of such cameras to identify these offences will soon be launched as part of the inter-federal All For Zero action plan.

Estimates show that last year about 50 people died and 4,500 people were injured in traffic accidents because of the use of mobile phones behind the wheel.

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