How a text cost two young lives [telecom]

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How a text cost two young lives

Nicky Phillips February 7, 2011

WHEN the car Marcus Johnstone was driving hit a power pole, killing two teenage girls, it was not speed or alcohol that caused the accident.

Johnstone, who was 22 at the time of the 2004 crash in Victoria, was deleting a text message on his mobile phone.

The 24-word message asking him if he fancied one of the girls sitting in the back seat, cost the lives of two teenagers and in 2006 left Johnstone with a jail sentence of six years and nine months.

He was the second person in Victoria to be charged with culpable and negligent driving for being distracted by a mobile phone.

Johnstone's lawyer Anthony Robinson said the situation was one many people could find themselves in.

''It was a terribly sad case, you felt terribly sad for the victims, but as his lawyer I felt terribly sad for Marcus because it's a very easy accident to happen,'' Mr Robinson said.

A survey in 2009 found 70 per cent of Victorian drivers aged between 18 and 25 admitted text messaging while driving.

''That's a pretty huge number,'' said Kristie Young, one of the researchers who conducted the survey for the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

Michael Regan, a distraction researcher working in France, said: ''When you hear a phone it sets in train a process of thinking 'who is it, could it be important, could it be my boss, should I answer it?'''

Drivers are being distracted not just by mobile phones. The influx of gadgets means cars are becoming mobile offices and entertainment centres.

But despite the emphasis on being able to multitask, the brain cannot pay attention to two things at once.

Texting on a phone and driving a car required a lot of attention, especially visual, Professor Regan said.

''When you are getting two tasks that require a lot of visual attention that is a recipe for failure.''

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