When driving a motor vehicle you really have only two core tasks. First is to get yourself and your passengers safely from A to B, and second is to allow other vehicles and pedestrians to get safely from their A to B. Choosing to endanger yourself, your passengers, other drivers and pedestrians by holding and using a mobile phone while driving dramatically decreases your chances of successfully achieving either.

Using a mobile phone while driving is an offence that crosses all demographics. Men and women, young and old, Hyundai and BMW drivers, city and country, broad highways and narrow suburban streets with school zones. It’s happening everywhere and all types of people are committing this dangerous act. And with more mobile phones now integrating smartphone features, there’s the added danger of drivers using a Twitter or game app while behind the wheel.

What exactly is the law?

Just so there is no doubt regarding the law on this matter, here’s the excerpt from the Australian Road Rules, published by the National Transport Commission:

“The driver of a vehicle (except an emergency vehicle or police vehicle) must not use a mobile phone that the driver is holding in his or her hand while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, unless the driver is exempt from this rule under another law of this jurisdiction.”

In this rule, ‘mobile phone’ does not include a CB radio or any other two-way radio. Use, in relation to a mobile phone, includes the following:

(a) Holding the phone to, or near, the ear (whether or not engaged in a phone call)
(b) Writing, sending or reading a text message on the phone
(c) Turning the phone on or off
(d) Operating any other function of the phone

If you do any of the above, make no mistake: you are breaking the law. Not breaking the law in a harmless way, such as exceeding the time limit in a parking zone, but in a way that can have deadly consequences.

This article concerns itself with general’ mobile phone usage. For the very confusing state of play regarding GPS on mobile phones, Gizmodo has written a couple of stories on the topic, most recently You Can Use Your Mobile Phone’s GPS in Victoria again. (link will open in a new window)

Increased danger

Just how much does your risk of accident increase while driving and using a handheld mobile phone? A 2008 study conducted by the UK-based Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) found that the risk of being involved in a crash increases four-fold when using your mobile phone. What’s more, the study found that the risk applied to the hands-free and hand-held use of phones.

The risk is even higher for texting while driving. It’s not just the actual distraction that’s the danger, the study states that vehicular phone use “increases drivers’ mental workload, often resulting in higher stress and frustration levels. There is evidence that drivers have to switch their attention between driving and using the phone, sometimes giving more attention to the phone call than to the road situation.”

Compare that to the figures for driving when affected by alcohol. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in their document ‘Do You Know When To Stop”, states that at the legal limit of 0.05% the chances of drivers being involved in an accident are double that of a blood reading of 0%. With a blood alcohol reading of twice the legal limit, 0.1%, that number increases to 7 times more likely.

So we have a problem that presents double the risk as driving with the legal limit of alcohol in the blood, but which receives next to no attention or funding to educate drivers to that danger. That’s bad enough, but when you know the numbers of people that are breaking the law and driving while using a mobile phone, it’s terrifying.