By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh
Across the nation, 10.9 million people admit to driving dangerously on the road and engaging in some form of distraction.
From snacking on takeaway food, to applying make-up, wearing thongs instead of covered shoes, and even having a microsleep, Australians’ desire to multitask behind the wheel is putting them at risk of accident – and hefty fines.
This week, The Daily Telegraph reported that Sydney drivers were snapped scoffing down bowls of cereal from their laps, while another man used his steering wheel to balance a textbook to read from.
Other drivers were photographed brushing their hair, clutching onto a sandwich and applying lipstick.
Increasingly, it appears that drivers are treating their cars more like a second home.
Driving whilst distracted may not seem like a big issue. But the reality is that even a split second of having your attention diverted can mean things going wrong. And that could end up leaving you and other motorists seriously injured, and even charged.
Safe Driving Report 2018
According to Finder.com.au’s Safe Driving Report 2018, 62 per cent of Australians admitted to participating in habits that could be potentially perilous whilst operating a car.
The report, which surveyed 1800 Australian drivers, revealed that by far, Australians’ worst driving habit involves munching on takeaway food, with 38 percent of motorists confessing that they like to snack when behind the wheel.
Close behind, another widespread dangerous act is driving in thongs. 31 per cent acknowledged wearing shoes that are not covered. The danger with thongs and uncovered shoes is that they can easily get caught while accelerating or changing gears. This can lead to disastrous accidents and injuries.
Among other dangerous activities Australians have engaged in whilst behind the wheel on busy roads include using their phones, driving with their knees, changing garments, and watching movies.
Almost one in 20 also owned up to having a microsleep behind the wheel, with NSW residents particularly of concern after one in 10 acknowledged that they have had a nap on the road – a double in figure of the nation’s average.
Some respondents even submitted their own hazardous behaviours, which comprised of driving on the wrong side of the road and having sex.
Traffic and Highway Patrol chief inspector Phil Brooks has criticised the conduct of distracted drivers, urging people to take better care on the roads as any action, even swift, that takes your eyes of the road is distracting and dangerous.
“Eating, putting on makeup, having conversations with other passengers, in-car technology – can all be distracting,” he said.
He advised that the key issue is personal responsibility. With the road toll currently at 223, road users need to be more aware of others, share the road safely, and do more to help police drive down the road toll.
“Stupid crazy stuff:” Woman charged for Careless Driving after Smoking Glass Meth Pipe While Driving
On Saturday 11 August 2018, a female motorist was observed smoking a glass meth pipe behind the wheel as she drove down Kwinana Freeway in Perth.
Another motorist on the same freeway that afternoon noticed the woman swerving across lanes, and photographed the 31-year-old woman as she fired up the pipe.
The image was rapidly sent to police, triggering an investigation and search warrant.
A dumbfounded local premier Mark McGowan said the act was one of the most insane things he had ever seen.
“Stupid crazy stuff. I look forward to police tracking her down and charging her,” he told Seven News.
The woman was summoned to face court at a later date on a count of careless driving.
A 25-year-old man is also to face court charged with drug offences.
The law on doing dumb things behind the wheel
While merely touching your mobile phone when driving can draw heavy fines and a loss of demerit points, technically, it is not illegal to eat and drive or wear thongs behind the wheel.
It is also not illegal for drivers to treat their vehicles like a bedroom or study.
In NSW, drivers must have a clear view of the road, they must have proper control of their vehicle when driving, and they must drive in a reasonable and prudent manner.
If drivers are deemed to not have full control of the car and are engaging in distracted behaviour, then they could face a weighty fine.
In NSW, driving without proper control of the vehicle carries an on-the-spot fine of up to $448 and three demerit points under the NSW Road Rules.
Driving without having a clear view of the road (in-front, behind or beside you) attracts a fine of up to $337 and 3 demerit points.
While there is no disqualification period or term of imprisonment for the offence of negligent driving, there is however an on-the-spot fine of $448, with 3 demerit points. If you “court elect” this infringement, then you can face greater penalties in the event you are found guilty or plead guilty in court- maximum penalty of up to $1,100. A Magistrate or Judge giving you a conditional release order (formerly known as a section 10 non-conviction) is the only way you will walk away without any of these penalties.
This is reflected in Section 117(1) Road and Transport Act 2013 (NSW).
If the loss of demerit points from negligent driving will result in a demerit points suspension notice from the RMS in your case, it may be worth your while to “court elect” the infringement notice (without paying the fine), alternatively, it may be better to pursue an RMS licence appeal avenue which is done by paying the fine, but appealing the RMS’s demerit point suspension notice letter- it’s strongly advised to seek advise from experienced traffic lawyers as to the advantages and disadvantages for each option for your situation.
If negligent driving occasioning death, you will be required to face court with a penalty of up to $3,300 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 18 months with an automatic driver licence disqualification of three years with the discretion for the Judge to reduce this to one year. Harsher penalties apply if it’s considered a second major offence in the preceding 5 years.
If negligent driving results in grievous bodily harm, you will be required to face court with a penalty of up to $2,200 fine and/or imprisonment of up to 9 months with an automatic licence disqualification of 3 years with a discretion for the Judge to reduce this to one year.
A Magistrate also has the power under the law to increase the disqualification period.
The case of Simpson v Peat  2 QB 24 says that you will be guilty of negligent driving if as a driver you didn’t exercise the degree of care and attention that a reasonable and prudent driver would exercise in the circumstances.
The circumstances considered by the Court include traffic conditions, weather factors and road conditions. It can also include the amount of sleep you got the night before to determine you were lacking in sleep at the time of driving.
Therefore, negligent driving as a separate offence can also cover the road rule offences explained above of driving without proper control of a vehicle or without a clear view. It can also encompass circumstances where an accident occurs, contributed by you eating or drinking at the time.
Can a Traffic Offence Affect My Insurance Claim?
According to Car Insurance Expert at finder.com.au, Bernie Hassan, it is worrying that so many Australians admit to risking their lives as well as those of others by engaging in dangerous and distracted road behaviours.
Ms Hassan has said that if you are in fact caught participating in dangerous driving activities that you could risk more than simply a heavy fine. This is aside from higher premiums and excess.
“If you are deemed to have been driving recklessly or engaging in risky behaviour behind the wheel and you are in an accident, you may not be able to claim the damage on your insurance,” she said.
“Comprehensive car insurance also won’t cover damage that’s been caused by illegal activities such as text and driving.”
Applying Common Sense on the Road
While police have the power to fine motorists for driving erratically, police say they are sick and tired of the reckless driving habits and the severe consequences from it.
When it comes to doing dumb things behind the wheel, NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey, has advised that the laws can only be regulated so much, and that sound judgement should instead be prioritised by drivers.
“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”, says . PMsavey.