Woman talking on mobile phone while driving.

Driving Risk: Mobile Phone Use

Driving Risk: Hands-Free is not Risk-Free


Around the mid 1990s, phone manufacturers started to provide a speaker-phone function. In the years following, various hands-free accessories started to crop up, making use of bluetooth technology. By about 2005, high end cars started providing the opportunity to speak hands-free using bluetooth via microphones and the car speakers. These days, even budget cars have phone connectivity and many new models have various voice activated functions. Why? All in an effort to reduce the need to take your hands off the steering wheel. But has this satisfactorily reduced driving risk?

What does the research say?

Unfortunately, the risk of collision is less about what your hands are doing and more about what your mind is doing.

Various studies have shown that it’s the talking on the phone that is the biggest contributor of risk, not the holding of the phone.

In a study ‘Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile’, conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, safe driving peformance of participants was tested in a lab, in a simulator and while driving a live car, using a range of methods, including the recording of brainwave activity using electroencephalographic (EEG) equipment.

Interestingly the results showed very little difference in risk between talking hands-free and hand-held.  The study identified ‘cognitive distraction’, a measure of how preoccupied drivers were doing various tasks. Distraction free driving was ranked as a score of 1, whilst hand-held and hands-free phone communication measured 2.45 and 2.27 respectively.

The distraction of talking on the phone was evident in various ways, including a 50% decline in navigation (i.e. drivers were twice as likely to miss their exit on a freeway), slower braking reaction times and reported inceased levels in effort and frustration. Speech-to-text technology, such as functions that allow you to dictate a text, email or social media update posed an even higher risk. in your business.

The overlooked risk

Most organisations overlook vehicle use when it comes to managing work health & safety (WHS). They assume that their people are competent drivers and they drive modern cars with new technology so the risk is controlled. For the most part they are right. However, this doesn’t account for the known and unknown risk taking behaviour we all engage in from time to time.

“Most organisations, most drivers, simply aren’t aware of the risk associated with various behaviours and aspects of driving,” stated Peter Gaul, Principal Consultant for OSHEM Solutions. “One of the services we provide is risk profiling an organisation to enable officers to meet their duty under the WHS Act. More often than not, driving is one of the highest risks in the organisation. In most cases, this risk has minimal controls in place”.

In fact, vehicle accidents accounts for 65% of all work-related deaths in Australia. Many more workers are injured, including 3,000 seriously injured. On average, a worker injured while driving will be off work for 5 weeks and accumulate a workers compensation cost of over $9,000. On top of this there is the cost of vehicle repairs and the effect on insurance premiums.


Carry out a risk analysis of all aspects of your organisation, including driving. Ensure that your WHS controls and programs are addressing the highest risk in your business. Also ensure that you have suitable mechanisms to verify the controls remain in place and are effective.

When it comes to hands-free, remember that hands-free does not equate to risk free. Where possible, make calls before or after your journey. If you must make or receive calls, keep them simple and quick. Never take your eyes off the road. If you find yourself being distracted by the call, terminate it or pull over.

Need Assistance?

If you require assistance risk profiling your organisation, OSHEM Solutions, health & safety consultants, can conduct a risk analysis and/or facilitate a risk assessment workshop.

If you require assistance identifying and managing the risks of driving in your organisation, contact OSHEM Solutions about our Safer Drivers Program. It’s based on research-proven methodology and comes with a results guarantee.

Contact Us

Call OSHEM Solutions on 1300 657 279 or Contact Us by email.