The purposes of this paper are:
- describe the current situation in Western Australia relating to the use of mobile telephones while driving; and
- present the latest evidence relating to the crash risk associated with using mobile telephones while driving.
Driver distraction, which has been highlighted as an emerging road safety issue in Western Australia’s Towards Zero road safety strategy for 2008-20201, has been defined as “the diversion of attention away from activities critical for safe driving toward a competing activity”2. As such it encompasses a wide range of distracting factors both in and external to the vehicle, including the use of mobile telephones3.
Using a mobile telephone while driving can impact at three critical levels4. • Drivers may be physically distracted, being required to drive one-handed either for the total duration of the call if using a hand-held device, or for part of the call if using a hands-free device. • Using any mobile telephone also involves visual distraction when starting and completing calls and especially if texting. • Mental distraction is another key factor, as talking and texting divert a driver’s attention from the driving task and the road environment.
In Western Australia over the period 2005-2007, one-third of all serious casualties have been associated with driver distraction1. However the precise contribution of mobile telephones remains largely unknown. Several early overseas studies have suggested that the use of mobile telephones contributed to less than one percent of all crashes5: however since that estimate was prepared, mobile telephone use while driving has almost surely increased markedly.
In Western Australia, in a 2010 survey of mobile telephone owners, 54 percent of respondents admitted to reading text messages, 46 percent to answering calls, 36 percent to making calls and 35 percent to sending texts, all while driving6. These findings collectively suggest that mobile telephone use while driving now represents a major road safety issue.