In Industry Comment, August 20214 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineSeptember 26, 2021

Why we need legislation on device placement in vehicles.

In 2018, an elderly woman was struck and killed by a truck in Auckland. A coroner’s verdict, announced in May 2021, suggested the placement of a computer tablet was a significant obstruction on the driver’s vision. In response to the finding, the Road Transport Forum said distraction was a big contributor to accidents on New Zealand roads.

Having worked as a police officer in the Western Australia Crash Investigations Unit, I was shocked to see the photo, which showed the device placed directly in the driver’s forward field of view. It’s incomprehensible from a safety perspective, and screens are becoming progressively problematic in vehicles as there’s no legislated standard on their placement. And without a legislated standard, authorities rely on common sense – which is increasingly uncommon.

Having a national or international standard would largely eliminate confusion and enable compliance from companies and drivers to incidents such as this in the future. The way the laws are currently written is like telling drivers speeding is illegal but not providing speed limits as a guide.

Current laws only state (as far as the placement is concerned) that the screen cannot obstruct a driver’s view, but this is extremely subjective with so many different vehicle designs. It is due to the incredibly varied designs and sizes of vehicles – compact hatchbacks, large sedans, SUVs, small trucks, large trucks. Even within the same category, dash depth, windscreen rake (angle), dash height, viewing height, and similar, are all different. So, finding a place that isn’t obstructive to a driver’s view differs greatly, and one size doesn’t fit all.

If legislated, this would give drivers specific guidelines on where they can legally place or mount a screen in their category and type of vehicle, providing compliance protection for employers and making prosecution for non-conformance easier for authorities.

As for how and when devices should be used, the answer is as little as possible. Other than for navigation, it should never be used when the vehicle is moving. All interaction with the screens should be done when stationary in a safe and legal position and the vehicle is in park or neutral with the parking brake on.

When the topic arises, it is common for policy-makers to revert to the auspice that current obstruction of vision laws cover it. The problem with that is it remains subjective – and, sadly, it’s not until someone places an iPad-sized device directly in their line of sight resulting in a fatal crash, that the shortfall is identified. Road Transport Forum CEO Nick Leggett said: “We owe it to this woman’s family to address what is safe and what isn’t.”

The goal of any safety- related legislation is to minimise risk and harm, and I am confident that specific guidelines on device placement and use will increase driver safety and improve the safety of other road users and the wider community. Use of screens will only increase, so we must ensure – through legislation – that they are only used when they aid in driver safety and do not become a distraction.

Chris L’Ecluse is a solution, safety and compliance specialist at Teletrac Navman.