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Mobile phone use and driving: the message is just not getting through.

Rowden, P, Watson, B (Peer reviewed)

Driver Risk & Behaviour


Previous research has shown that mobile phone use while driving can increase crash risk fourfold while texting results in 23 times greater crash risk for heavy vehicle drivers. However, mobile phone use has changed in recent years with the functional capabilities of smart phones to now also include a range of other common behaviours while driving such as using Facebook, emailing, the use of ‘apps’ and GPS. Research continues to show performance decrements for many such behaviours while driving, however many Australians still openly admit to illegal mobile phone use while driving despite ongoing enforcement efforts and public awareness campaigns. Of most concern are young drivers. ‘Apps’ available to restrict mobile phone use while in motion do not prevent use while a driver is stopped at traffic lights, so are therefore not a wholly viable solution. Vehicle manufacturers continue to develop in-vehicle technology to minimise distraction, however communication with the ‘outside world’ while driving is also perhaps a strong selling point for vehicles. Hence, the safety message that drivers should focus on the driving task solely and not use communication devices is unlikely to ever be internalised by many drivers. This paper reviews the available literature on the topic and argues that a better understanding of perceptions of mobile phone use while driving and motives for use are required to inform public awareness campaign development for specific road user groups. Additionally, illegal phone use while driving may be reinforced by not being apprehended (punishment avoidance); therefore stronger deterrence-focussed messages may also be beneficial.