Risk Perceptions of Mobile Phone Use While Driving


*Address correspondence to M. P. White, Department of Psychology, Center for Research in Social Attitudes, Western Bank, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK S10 2TP; m.p.white@shef.ac.uk.


Numerous governments have introduced regulations governing the use of mobile (cellular) telephones while driving. Despite significant research into the “objective” risks, there is relatively little research into risk perceptions either in relation to other in-car distractions or with respect to the factors underlying such perceptions. The current article reports on two studies addressing these issues. Study 1 (N= 199) found that whereas the use of hand-held sets is seen as one of the riskiest activities to perform while driving, the risks of using a hands-free kit are perceived to be relatively small. Study 2 (N= 1,320) found that nearly half of all drivers in the sample with a mobile phone reported having used it while driving and that, overall, the probability of having an accident was perceived to be less for oneself than for one's peers, indicating an optimistic bias. Two factors underpinned risk perceptions, “impact” including perceived severity and equitability, and “controllability” including immediacy, detectability, and probability. While higher “impact” scores were associated with increased preferences for restrictions on the use of hand-held mobiles while driving, the “controllability” scores moderated this relationship such that when perceived “controllability” was low, restriction preferences were high irrespective of perceived “impact.” However, when “controllability” was high, restriction preferences remained high when “impact” was high but were low when “impact” was low. Given the growing number of in-car technological innovations, it is suggested that regulators act strategically, rather than finding themselves developing a series of “hazard-specific” regulations, which may ultimately lack coherence.