- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia (Agence France-Presse) — Motorists using mobile phones are more likely to crash their cars than drunken drivers, Australian researchers said yesterday.

Researchers from the emergency department of the Royal Melbourne Hospital found that drivers who use hand-held mobile phones are four times as likely as other drivers to have a collision, double the risk of drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limit.

The risk of a fatality increased ninefold when using a mobile phone — compared to drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.09, who are 11 times more likely to cause death than a sober, undistracted driver.

“Inattention is a contributing factor in 35 percent of accidents, and police reports indicate that significantly higher rates of accidents related to driver inattention are found among drivers using mobile phones,” the researchers said in their study, which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

During observation tests on city streets and highways in the southern city of Melbourne on three consecutive Fridays last year, the researchers found that around 1 in 5 drivers used hand-held mobile phones despite 15-year-old laws banning their use.

Lead researcher David Taylor said a cultural shift in attitude is necessary to cut road risks.

“There’s been quite a cultural shift with relation to drunk driving, and I would like to see the public become a lot more aware of the mobile-phone driving issue as well,” he said.

“It has potentially devastating consequences.

“It might take a bit of arm bending to try to improve this nasty statistic that we’ve demonstrated. People these days almost expect they’ve got a right to 24-hour, every-minute communication on their phone.”

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