Mobile phone use

Driving is a complex task, requiring drivers to use and coordinate a number of skills. Any lapse in concentration increases the risk of the vehicle being involved in a crash.

Driving while using a hand held mobile phone can cause both physical and mental distraction which impairs driving performance.

Using a mobile phone while driving can significantly impair a driver’s:

  • reaction time
  • visual search patterns
  • ability to maintain speed and position on the road
  • ability to judge safe gaps in the traffic
  • general awareness of other road users.

Research shows that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of crashing by at least four times.  The most common types of crashes associated with mobile usage are ‘run-off-the-road’ crashes and ‘rear end’ crashes.

Using a mobile phone while driving can bring even greater danger to novice drivers as they may experience difficulty in balancing the many demands on their driving - from perceptual, mental and physical tasks. Research has found novice drivers who use a mobile phone spend less time looking at the road ahead. They are also more likely to wander over the road (across traffic lanes) and take longer to notice driving hazards.

A mobile phone can be important in an emergency.  If you need to use your mobile phone to call for help, stop and park safely where you will not endanger other road users.

Learner’s Permit (L) and Provisional (P1) drivers are banned from using any type of mobile phone function while driving.  The mobile phone ban includes:

  • using hands-free mode including Bluetooth technology
  • loudspeaker operation
  • text messaging.

Safe driving tips for using a mobile phone

Never read or send text messages while driving

Use voicemail instead of answering your phone while driving

Pull over safely and park to make or receive a call

Plan breaks in your trip for phone calls

Tell your family and friends not to call when you know you’ll be driving

Never look up phone numbers while driving


How do mobile phones distract drivers?

Using a mobile phone while driving distracts you in many ways:

  • Physical distraction - for example handling the phone while driving or taking your hand off the steering wheel to dial a phone number or to answer/end a call.
  • Visual distraction - for example taking your eyes off the road.
  • Cognitive (mental) distraction - for example doing two mental tasks at the same time, like having a conversation and driving.

Why is it dangerous to use a mobile phone while driving?

Research shows that dialling and talking on a mobile phone while driving can lead to:

Riskier decision makingDeciding when it is safe to turn in traffic is a complex task. Using a mobile phone while driving affects judgment and concentration and you may fail to choose a safe gap. When making a decision to turn across oncoming traffic, you also tend not to consider the environmental conditions such as, when it is raining or the roads are slippery. If you don’t make safe turns you could crash.
Slower reactionsYou generally react slower when using a mobile phone, particularly when you’re deep in conversation. You may take longer to respond to traffic signals or completely miss them.
Slower and less controlled brakingDuring a mobile phone call your brake reaction time is slower, and you brake with more force and less control which results in shorter stopping distances available between yourself and the car in front.

Wandering out of your lane

You’re more likely to wander out of your lane when you’re using a mobile phone, even on a straight road with little traffic.
Not being alert to your surroundingsWhen using a mobile phone, you tend to spend less time checking your mirrors and what’s going on around you. This affects your ability to monitor and negotiate traffic safely.

Why is talking to a passenger different to talking on a mobile?

If a dangerous situation develops, your passenger can stop talking and let you concentrate on driving. On a mobile phone, the person you’re talking to isn’t aware of the danger and will keep talking, further distracting you when your full concentration is needed.

Why is text messaging even more dangerous?

Text messaging while driving results in physical, visual and cognitive distraction. Research shows that retrieving and sending text messages increases the amount of time a driver spends not looking at the road. Your eyes maybe taken off the road for up to four times longer when text messaging compared to when not text messaging when driving. This can lead to:

  • incorrect lane changes
  • wandering from your lane
  • missing road signs and hazards like pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.

The more you talk the less you see!

Even the best drivers have difficulty in processing two or more pieces of information at the same time, especially if the tasks are similar or they demand more attention than the driver can give at one time.

For example, it is more difficult to drive safely and have a simple conversation in a complex driving situation such as in peak hour, on unfamiliar roads, at night or in wet weather. It is less difficult to drive safely in light traffic while having a simple conversation with a passenger.

It is more difficult to drive safely and have a complex conversation in light traffic. Complex conversation needs more attention and takes your mind off the road. When your mind is not on the road, someone could die.

More FAQs and South Australian rules on using a mobile phone use while driving

FAQs for learner's permit and P1 drivers

What the law says

In South Australia, Rule 300 (Use of Mobile Phones) under the Australian Road Rules details what is and isn’t legally acceptable use of a mobile phone while driving.

Rule 300 states that:

  • If a person wishes to make or receive a call, including dialling a number, and needs to touch any part of the phone to do so, that phone must be mounted (in a mounting commercially designed and manufactured for that purpose).
  • If the phone is being used via blue tooth, a headset or earphones without touching, holding or resting the phone on their body, the phone may be located anywhere in the vehicle, including in the driver’s pocket or pouch they are wearing (the driver may touch the earpiece or headphone to operate the phone).
  • The amendment will not affect the driver’s freedom to hold the phone to make or receive calls, or use any other function of the phone, if the car is parked (but not stationary in a traffic queue or at lights).
  • It is an offence to create, send or look at a text, video message or email on a mobile phone.

This rule does not apply to learner’s permit and P1 licence holders. These drivers are not allowed to use any type of mobile phone function of any kind while driving.  The mobile phone ban includes:

  • using hands-free mode including Bluetooth technology
  • loudspeaker operation
  • text messaging.

See 33(1) of the Road Traffic (Road Rules - Ancillary and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1999)


In South Australia, all drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone while driving face an on-the-spot fine and will incur three demerit points.

In addition, learner’s permit and P1 licence holders who use any type of mobile phone function while driving face an on-the-spot fine and will incur three demerit points.  Remember, if you incur four or more demerit points while the holder of a learner’s permit or P1 licence you will be disqualified for a period of 6 months and may regress to a previous licence stage.

A motorist whose driving is affected while using a mobile phone may also be charged by Police with the offence of driving without due care or dangerous driving depending on the type of driving behaviour.  These offences carry severe penalties and are not expiable.

Remember, if you don’t have proper control of your vehicle because you are talking on a hands-free mobile phone you are guilty of an offence.


Mobile Phones – Rules for Motorists

Learner and P1 licence holders FAQs

Further research reports

If you drive while phoning you’re far more likely to get into a crash in which you’ll be injured (PDF 799kb)
The effects of text messaging on young novice driver performance (PDF 346kb)
The risk of using a mobile phone while driving (PDF 257kb)
Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: A case-crossover study

Note - This information is a guide only and should not be relied on for legal purposes.  Full details of traffic offences and penalties are contained in the Road Traffic Act 1961, associated Regulations and the Australian Road Rules. For further information visit:

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