Technology is the new alcohol

YOUNG drivers are heeding safety messages about speeding and driving under the influence, but are putting other drivers at risk by fiddling with their phones while behind the wheel, according to new research from leading insurer AAMI.

The 11th AAMI Young Drivers Index revealed that young drivers performed better in almost all of the "traditional" risky driving behaviour indicators, but they are the most likely to be distracted by their mobile phone, GPS unit, iPod, radio or CD player.

AAMI spokesman Reuben Aitchison said "nomophobia" - a fear of being out of reach of your mobile - seems to have set in, with over half (58%)* of young drivers admitting to sending or reading a text message or MMS while driving.

"The average text takes around five seconds to read," Mr Aitchison said.

"If you are going 100kmh, you'll hurtle along the length of a footy field with your eyes off the road, only one hand on the wheel and your mind elsewhere.

"It's an excellent sign that young drivers are less likely to drink drive and speed, but on the flipside it is shocking to think of relatively inexperienced drivers tearing down the road, not paying attention to what's going on around them.

"Many of these drivers will be only a few years off their L-plates and think they're invincible.

"They just don't have the experience to know how quickly things can go wrong on the road and understand that shifting their concentration for even a few seconds may just be their undoing.

"The road toll is definitely heading in the right direction, especially when it comes to young drivers, but people aged under 25 are still well over-represented in the figures.

"We urge all drivers, regardless of their age, to have a serious think about whether their phone conversation or SMS is really worth the fines or demerit points they face, losing their licence, or causing serious injury, or worse, to themselves, their passengers or other road users."

The risky behaviour young drivers traditionally display has marginally improved.

The number of 18 to 24-year-old drivers that say they have driven while probably over the drink-drive limit has fallen by 5%, from 20% in 2010 to 15% in 2011

The number of drivers aged 18-24 who believe using recreational drugs doesn't really affect their driving performance has halved, from 12% in 2010 to 6% in 2011.

Nearly half (48%) of young drivers admitted to speeding to get home or to work sooner in 2010, falling to 43% in 2011.

But technology could be the new alcohol for drivers aged 18 to 24

Nearly half (46%) say they have used their mobile to make a call without a hands-free set, the highest of any age group.

Fifty-eight per cent of young drivers, the most of any age group, have sent a text message or MMS while driving.

A fifth of drivers aged 18-24 have used their mobile to read emails or check the internet while driving.

Almost a third admit to inputting information on a sat-nav while driving, the highest of any age group.

Nearly half of young drivers say they have lost concentration while changing music behind the wheel.

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