Objective: To determine the rate of handheld mobile telephone use among motor vehicle drivers.
Design and setting: Observational study of motor vehicle drivers at three times (10: 00-11: 00; 14: 00-15: 00; 17: 00-18: 00) on three consecutive Fridays in October 2002 at 12 highway sites in metropolitan Melbourne.
Main outcome measures: Rates of mobile phone use overall and by sex and age group, highway site (major metropolitan road, central business district, freeway exit ramp) and time of day (morning, afternoon, evening).
Results: 315 of 17 023 drivers were observed using mobile phones (18.5 users/1000 drivers; 95% CI, 16.5-20.6). Men had a slightly higher rate of use (19.0; 95% CI, 16.5-21.6) than women (17.5; 95% CI, 14.1-20.9), but the difference was not significant. Older drivers (50 years or more) had a significantly lower rate (4.8; 95% CI, 2.5-7.0) than middle-aged (21.9; 95% CI, 18.8-25.1) or young drivers (23.2; 95% CI, 18.9-27.5). Central business district drivers had a slightly, but not significantly, higher rate (20.5; 95% CI, 16.8-24.3) compared with those on major metropolitan roads (16.7; 95% CI, 13.3-20.2) or freeway exit ramps (18.2; 95% CI, 14.8-21.6). The rate of mobile phone use was significantly higher in the evening (23.5; 95% CI, 19.8-27.3) compared with the morning (16.0; 95% CI, 12.6-19.4) and afternoon (15.2; 95% CI, 11.9-18.4).
Conclusion: Mobile phone use is common among Melbourne metropolitan drivers despite restrictive legislation. This issue needs to be further addressed by Victoria Police and public health and education agencies. Similar research is indicated to determine the extent of mobile phone use in other states.