Australian research highlights the need to do more than just use a hands-free device

Australian research on the role of mobile phones in accidents requiring hospital attendance published in the British Medical Journal today highlights the need for drivers to take more precautions than just using a hands-free device when using a mobile phone whilst driving.

“A hands-free device can reduce the physical effort to make and receive calls. However, drivers should also avoid making calls in heavy traffic or bad weather conditions and they should not engage in distracting complex or emotional conversations,” CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) Graham Chalker, said.

The research conducted by The George Institute for International Health, University of Sydney, Injury Research Centre and the University of Western Australia, looked at 456 drivers over the age of 17 who owned and used mobile phones and had been in road crashes resulting in hospital attendance between April 2002 and July 2004. The study found a driver’s use of a mobile phone in the 10 minutes before a crash was associated with a fourfold increased likelihood of crashing.

“This result is consistent with a similar study conducted in Canada in 1997, and has been the basis of the industry’s continued efforts to educate drivers about ways to minimise the risk of all driver distractions including mobile phones,” Mr Chalker said.

The research also found no significant safety difference when using a hands-free phone device. Using a hands free device while driving was not on its own a guarantee of safety, Mr Chalker said.

“If a call is unnecessary or you consider it unsafe to answer at the time, do not answer the call and let it divert to voicemail or an answering service,” he said.

“Drivers should plan ahead and make calls when stationary or during rest breaks on long trips. Drivers can also use a phone with voice activated dialling and automatic answering features to reduce the effort required to make and receive calls on a hands-free device.”

It is also important to note that the study found almost all drivers followed the legal requirement to use a hands-free device, with only 2 percent of drivers illegally using hand held phones. This was also confirmed in a 2003 study of Melbourne drivers.

“Australian drivers must be commended for their compliance with the law when using their mobile phones when driving. However, focusing only on hands-free use, as the law requires, may lull people into a false sense of security and drivers should also consider other factors such as traffic and weather conditions and the complexity of the conversations they engage in.

“When using a mobile phone while driving, safety is the most important call you will make. All drivers can make safety their first priority by following some simple common sense practices,” Mr Chalker said.

Click here for AMTA’s “Mobile Phones and Driving - Safety Tips”

Optus, Telstra and Vodafone provided mobile phone call records of consenting participants in the study but the research was independently funded by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arlington, Virginia.

Media Contact: Randal Markey, Manager Communications, AMTA  (02) 6239 6555 or 0421 240 550