One in Three Drivers Flout Phone Laws: Monash Research

Monash University

One in three Victorian motorists admits to illegally using their mobile phone while driving and many don’t know they are breaking the law, Monash University research shows.

The study, by BehaviourWorks Australia, part of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), shows young people are the worst offenders and guilt is a bigger deterrent than fines.

The paper, Understanding the Deterrent Impact Formal and Informal Sanctions Have on Illegal Smartphone use While Driving was published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention.

The study surveyed 2774 Victorian drivers and found 37.1 per cent had used their phone illegally while driving in the preceding 31 days. And the habit is growing, up from 34 per cent in a 2018 Transport Accident Commission (TAC) study.

Young drivers were the worst offenders, with 66.4 per cent of respondents aged between 18 and 25 admitting to using their phone illegally while driving, compared to 12 per cent of drivers aged over 60. Women were more likely to break the law than men (40.1 per cent compared to 33.6 per cent).

The researchers found 31 per cent of probationary drivers and 19.3 per cent of full licence holders did not know the law around phones and driving.

The study also explored driver attitudes around breaking the law, and found that formal deterrents, like the threat of being fined, had little impact on compliance. Instead, informal deterrents, like feeling guilt, shame and a fear of getting hurt, were more likely to curb risky phone behaviour behind the wheel.

Lead researcher, PhD candidate Fareed Kaviani, said there was a view among drivers that it was easy to break smartphone laws without getting caught. However, personal beliefs were the overriding factor in determining a driver’s compliance.

“Norms around the acceptability of using a mobile phone, or abiding by the law in general, have been internalised for people that do not engage in illegal phone use. Therefore, the prospect of going against one’s beliefs elicits guilt and acts as a deterrent,” Mr Kaviani said.

“The problem is the notion that illegal use can be engaged in safely, or that it is an acceptable behaviour. What was concerning during my focus groups with illegal users between the ages of 18 to 25 was they all admitted that nothing would stop their illegal use except a serious crash, or someone close to them crashing.”

Phone use contributes to 16 per cent of Victorian road deaths and serious injuries. Research shows a driver who takes their eyes off the road for two seconds doubles their crash risk.

Mr Kaviani said

/Public Release.