Dutch road safety institute starts five-year study into smartphone use and traffic accidents

Wednesday 6 December 2017 | 21:57 CET | News
Dutch insurance company Interpolis and the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV) have published a study into the use of smartphones in the car. The Barometer for 2017 shows that 65 percent of Dutch people use their telephone while in traffic; 76 percent say that they find their own use of mobile phones while in traffic to be dangerous. There appears to be a reasonable awareness of the dangers of telephone use during traffic participation; nevertheless, the phone is still frequently used. SWOV will be measuring attitudes five years in a row, in research sponsored by Interpolis, which also insures automobiles.

The researchers asked for attitudes from four types of road users. For cyclists, light-moped riders and motorists, confidence in one's own ability is the most important predictor for telephone use. For pedestrians, the most important predictor is the habit of using the phone. The social norm and the degree of risk perception rein in use.

65% use smartphones

Around 35 percent of Dutch people never use their phone in traffic, but 65 percent do. People tend to underestimate their behaviour at first. The 65 percent figure did not emerge until people were questioned about specific actions. According to the researchers, this offers starting points for measures and policy.

The research also shows that children use their phone out of habit and that they do not yet have a clear idea of the risks. All connections found concerning the use of telephones by children are unfavourable when it comes to road safety. SWOV advises paying extra attention to this group.

Discussion about safety

Interpolis and SWOV set up the study to contribute to the discussion about the use of smartphones by those in traffic. The number of fatalities in traffic has risen since 2014, when there was a slight decline. Traffic safety organizations (VVN) and the insurers (Allsecur, SIMN) have designated the smartphone but real substantiation is still thin. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (Rijkswaterstaat) had a count done by spotters along and on the roads. The result showed that 7 percent of motorists are “busy with a screen.” However, it is difficult to recognise behaviours with such a study, and so interprete and extrapolate those measurements.

US research concludes that in 68 percent of accidents, the driver was distracted immediately prior to the accident. The Dutch looked back on accidents and came up with much higher percentages. In the Netherlands, police and justice are also busy studying accidents. On 23 November, a car driver was partially acquitted of a fatal collision on Texel. The Dutch Prosecution Service (OM)made a connection between the time of the collision in 2016 and the time the driver sent a WhatsApp message. According to the judge, however, this proof was not indisputable. The OM had demanded unconditional prison sentences of six months.

The Interpolis-SWOV study will also keep track of what consumers think about possible measures, such as a ban on hands-free calls or higher fines. In this first year of the Barometer, 4201 respondents between the ages of 18 and 80 and 262 children between the ages of 12 and 17 participated, from all over the Netherlands.

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