Mobile phone use while driving is a global epidemic. Crashes and fatalities caused by distracted driving are on the rise, with the World Health Organisation estimating that up to 11% of drivers worldwide are using their phones any given moment.1 In fact, many major western countries, such as America, Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand experienced increases in their total road tolls in 2015 and 2016, following years of steady decline.2345 Unfortunately, Australia hasn’t been immune to this trend, with our total road toll also increasing in 2015 and 2016 after years of encouraging downward trend.6
Due to dramatic increases in functionality, affordability, and necessity over the past decade, 88% of Australians now own a smartphone.7 Further, Australia ranks 7th globally for vehicles per capita, housing 740 vehicles for every 1,000 citizens.8 This has proved to be a problematic combination, with distracted driving now causing approximately one quarter of all crashes on Australian roads.9 Consequently, distracted driving is one of the top five causes of car crashes in Australia, along with speeding, alcohol consumption, not wearing a seatbelt, and driver fatigue.10
Although operating a hand-held mobile phone in any capacity while driving is illegal in all Australian states and territories - carrying fines of between $250 and $54811 and a loss of up to 5 demerit points12 - many drivers have continued to use them anyway. While the nature of the activity makes precise statistics hard to come by, previous research has estimated that anywhere between 61%11 and 77%13 of Australians use their phones for any purpose while driving.
With this in mind, a new study commissioned by Budget Direct, with research being undertaken by The Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety - Queensland (CARRS-Q), has provided valuable insight into the nature, extent, and causes of this issue, while also suggesting promising ways to address distracted driving in Australia.
The study, titled ‘A Road Safety Intervention To Modify Attitudes and Behaviours Towards Mobile Phone Use While Driving’, measured 5 types of mobile phone while driving behaviours. These were: checking your mobile phone for missed calls, answering a phone call in hand-held mode, reading a text message (or another form of communication such as a Facebook message, Snapchat, an email, or a Tweet), answering a text message (or another form of communication such as a Facebook message, Snapchat, an email, or a Tweet), and changing music (using Spotify, iTunes etc.). The study’s key findings are summarised below.