13 May 2021 | See disclaimer

Are we becoming more distracted on the roads? To explore both how common and dangerous distracted driving can be, we’ve combined government statistics with our own first-hand research.

Quick stats

  • Drivers are 4x more likely to crash when using a phone
  • At 60km/h, if you look away for 3 seconds, you’ll have travelled for over 50m blind
  • 29% of drivers have admitted to having performed an action on their mobile phone while driving in the last week.

Fatigue, alcohol, and drugs all have the potential to impair your focus and vision. But what if your eyes aren’t on the road at all? The Queensland Government suggests that someone distracted is just as dangerous on the road as someone driving drunk.

To find out just how distractions occur, the dangers they present, and how common this is across Australian drivers, we’ve done our own research to uncover:

What are the common distractions for drivers?

With all the features of modern cars, technology, and life we are presented with more distractions than ever. The common distractions Australian drivers face include:

  • texting/mobile messaging
  • eating and drinking
  • smoking/vaping
  • applying makeup
  • hair styling
  • changing music or audio
  • reading a map/navigation app
  • changing clothes.

Any of these can take a driver’s eyes off the road for several seconds, which is more than enough for hazards or accidents to have become unavoidable.

The risk of distractions

Added dangers of distracted driving

Plenty of research and studies have proven the dangers of distracted driving. Some of the key findings from around Australia include:

4x

more likely to crash when using a phone.

1,284

people are seriously injured on Queensland roads each year due to distracted driving.

29

people are killed each year on Queensland roads each year due to distracted driving.

The 'blind travel' calculator

If I was distracted for seconds at km/h, I would drive blind for
--- metres.

As you would expect, each state and territory has firm laws on distracted driving – particularly the use of a mobile phone. Fines around Australia can range from as low as $344 in Tasmania, up to $1,000 in Queensland or Western Australia.

  Fine Demerit points
Queensland $1,000 4
New South Wales $349 5
Victoria $496 4
Western Australia $1,000 4
South Australia $544 3
Tasmania $344 3
Northern Territory $500 3
Australian Capital Territory $480 3

Distracted driving survey

In a study of 1,008 Australian drivers conducted by Budget Direct, we found the following results:

Do you feel comfortable driving while using your phone?

It seems that younger drivers feel more comfortable driving while using their phones than older drivers. Particularly in the age range from 25 to 44, over a quarter of Australian drivers feel comfortable using their phone while driving.

When do you think it would be most appropriate to use a mobile phone while driving?

A majority of Australians believe that it’s never appropriate to use a mobile phone while driving. Of those that do think it can be appropriate, most deem an emergency as the most valid situation. Otherwise, around 13% of drivers believe a mobile is appropriate to use either in standstill traffic, or at a traffic light.

When do you think it would be most appropriate to use a mobile phone while driving? ("Never" answers, broken down by age)

Fitting with the results of our first question, younger drivers seem more likely to find using a mobile phone appropriate. 28% of drivers aged 25-34 said they feel comfortable driving while using a mobile phone, but nearly 62% of the same population gave examples of when it would be appropriate to use a mobile phone while driving.

Which of the following actions with a mobile phone have you done in the last week while driving?*

Action % of Australian drivers
Used a navigation app 21.2%
Sent a text message 9.5%
Taken a photo or video 5.5%
Checked social media 5.4%
Facetimed or handheld phone call 4.2%
Sent an email 5.2%
Watched a video or movie 3.1%
Played a game 2.0%
None of the above 70.9%

Almost 10% of Australian drivers have admitted to having sent a text message while driving in the last week. Another 5.5% have either taken a photo/video, 5.4% have checked social media, and 4.2% have made a call (either handheld of Facetime).

Which of the following actions have you done in the last week while driving?*

Action % of Australian drivers
Ate or drank 28.9%
Vaped or smoked a cigarette 5.9%
Changed clothes 2.6%
Applied makeup 1.6%
Read a book or printed map 1.6%
Styled hair 1.4%
None of the above 66.1%

Outside of mobile phone use, the most common distraction Australian drivers seem to encounter is eating and drinking. While this is fairly common behaviour, it can still take the driver’s eyes off the road for several seconds, to open a packet, pop open a water bottle, or simply find a stable place to put food down.

*Participants were able to select multiple answers, meaning percentages may add up to more than 100%.

What you should consider on the road

Prepare your phone before you set off

A lot of us use our phones for navigation, and that’s a fair and (mostly) legal thing to do. But if you know where you’re headed before setting off, arrange navigation before your car even starts. You reduce the risk of receiving a fine, but also prevent yourself from being distracted while driving.

Don't let your phone distract you

It’s not unusual for your phone to buzz while you’re on the move. But if you’re prepared and accept that will happen, it’s easier to make the decision simply not to check it.

Or better yet, you can avoid the temptation to check your phone by putting it on "Do Not Disturb" mode as you take off. For a quick and simple guide to setting this up, check out our interactive guide for turning on Do Not Disturb.

Consider how much time distractions will cost you

There are some handheld foods that will almost never take your eyes off the road. Others might take a little more attention away, increasing your risk of an accident.

This comes down to you using your best judgement as a driver. If something (like applying makeup) is going to take your eyes off the road for a little too long, it’s worth either waiting until you arrive, or pulling the car over.

Disclaimer: This survey was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Budget Direct in April 2021. The survey was conducted online with a total sample size of 1,008, weighted and representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+) with driver’s licences. All other data on this website is the latest available from the named sources in this article, and was obtained in April 2021. Auto & General Services Pty Ltd does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the data and accepts no liability whatsoever arising from or connected in any way to the use or reliance upon this data.