Should young drivers use mobile phones (hand-held or hands-free) while driving?
Hand-held mobile phone use while driving is banned in all states of Australia. Research has shown however, whether in hand-held mode or in hands-free mode, mobile phone use increases reaction times, speeding and attention lapses, as well as the risk of crashing. The risk of crashing increases four-fold, while the risk of driver death is between 4-9 times higher than when not using a phone.
Distracting a new driver is risky. Many Graduated Driver Licensing strategies aim to reduce distractions. There are a number of distractions found in cars, including radios, CD players and Global Positioning Systems, and passengers significantly add to these distractions. However, talking on a mobile phone has been shown to be even more distracting that talking to passengers.
Young drivers are more likely to undertake distractions and more likely to be severely injured when distracted by a mobile phone. A small study in the United States using a driving simulator found young drivers using a mobile while driving were involved in more collisions, drove through more stop signs, and crossed the centreline more often than experienced drivers using a mobile. An Australian study has shown that 9% of interviewed drivers who crashed used a mobile phone up to 10 minutes prior to the crash. Using a mobile phone in the previous 10 minutes was associated with a four-fold increase in risk of crashing.
Some Australian jurisdictions (Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria) have disallowed all mobile phone use during the Learner and first stage Provisional licence periods. This includes phones in the hands-free mode or with loud speaker operating, sending or receiving SMS messages, and playing games. As the introduction of these full mobile phone bans are relatively new, long term data are not yet available on their effectiveness in reducing phone use while driving, nor any subsequent impact on crashes.
In Australia, 9% of young drivers reported using a mobile phone in their most recent car journey. In this study, compared to older drivers, young drivers rated distracting activities such as mobile phone use as significantly less risky. Other reports find only 28% of young drivers view using a mobile while driving as hazardous, which suggests many young drivers might not comply with a ban on use if introduced.
Effectiveness of restrictions depends on compliance, which can also depend on the level of enforcement of the restriction. One study in the United States found that the introduction of a mobile phone restriction for young drivers was not supported by targeted enforcement and there was little change in the short-term on the use of mobile phones while driving. One report suggests, “there is evidence that cell [mobile] phone use among young novice drivers may be particularly problematic, although enforcement of a ban on such use would be challenging.” Police report difficulties detecting mobile use by drivers when use can be hidden from view.
There is strong evidence that using a mobile phone (including hands-free) has a significantly detrimental effect on the driving performance and crash risk of young drivers. Therefore, despite limited knowledge of their effectiveness, restrictions on all mobile use while driving are justified during the Learner and first Provisional licence stages.
Beede KE, Kass SJ. Engrossed in conversation: The impact of cell phones on simulated driving performance. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2006;38(2):415-421.
Caird JK, Willness CR, Steel P, Scialfa C. A meta-analysis of the effects of cell phones on driver performance. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2008;40(4):1282-1293.
Drews FA, Pasupathi M, Strayer DL. Passenger and cell phone conversations in simulated driving. Journal Applied of Experimental Psychology. 2008;14(4):392-400.
Ferguson SA. Other high-risk factors for young drivers–how graduated licensing does, doesn’t, or could address them. Journal of Safety Research. Jan 2003;34(1):71-77.
Foss RD, Goodwin AH, McCartt AT, Hellinga LA. Short-term effects of a teenage driver cell phone restriction. Accident Analysis and Prevention. May 2009;41: 419-424.
Ginsburg KR, Winston FK, Senserrick TM, et al. National young-driver survey: teen perspective and experience with factors that affect driving safety. Pediatrics. May 2008;121(5):e1391-1403.
Kass SJ, Cole KS, Stanny CJ. Effects of distraction and experience on situation awareness and simulated driving. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. 2007;10(4):321-329.
Laberge-Nadeau C, Maag U, Bellavance F, et al. Wireless telephones and the risk of road crashes. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2003;35(5):649-660.
McCartt AT, Hellinga LA, Bratiman KA. Cell phones and driving: review of research. Traffic Injury Prevention. Jun 2006;7(2):89-106.
McCartt AT, Hellinga LA, Geary LL. Effects of Washington, D.C. law on drivers’ hand-held cell phone use. Traffic Injury Prevention. Mar 2006;7(1):1-5.
McEvoy SP, Stevenson MR, McCartt AT, et al. Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study. British Medical Journal. Aug 20 2005;331(7514):428.
McEvoy SP, Stevenson MR, Woodward M. Phone use and crashes while driving: A representative survey of drivers in two Australian states. Medical Journal of Australia. Dec 4-18 2006;185(11-12):630-634.
McEvoy SP, Stevenson MR, Woodward M. The contribution of passengers versus mobile phone use to motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance by the driver. Accident Analysis and Prevention. Nov 2007;39(6):1170-1176.
McEvoy SP, Stevenson MR, Woodward M. The impact of driver distraction on road safety: results from a representative survey in two Australian states. Injury Prevention. Aug 2006;12(4):242-247.
Neyens DM, Boyle LN. The influence of driver distraction on the severity of injuries sustained by teenage drivers and their passengers. Accident Analysis and Prevention. Jan 2008;40(1):254-259.
Rosenbloom T. Driving performance while using cell phones: an observational study. Journal of Safety Research. 2006;37(2):207-212.
Senserrick T, Whelan M. Graduated driver licensing: Effectiveness of systems and individual components. Report 209. Clayton, VIC: Monash University Accident Research Centre; 2003.
Senserrick T. Australian Graduated Driver Licensing Systems. Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety. 2009;20(1):20-26.