In most countries, regulation regarding the use of handheld devices while driving is enforced through fines. A few countries increase the severity of fines by adding penalty/demerit points, which have licensing consequences. In the EU zone, in 2009, fines range from 11 EUR to 200 EUR, with the average of 68 EUR.  


Enforcement, critical to the success of legislative initiatives, is more challenging in this field compared to traditional offences. Mobile phones can be held so that they are not visible to someone outside the vehicle. Their use is particularly difficult to assess at night, or in circumstances where a police officer's view would be obstructed, such as in heavy traffic or in a car with tinted windows. Some solutions by law enforcement agencies have included use of binoculars (Norway), targeted inspections, increasingly the visibility of police officers (U.K.) and expanding responsibility for enforcement to all branches of the police service (Australia). 

  Driver stopped by police


In a few places, the introduction of legislation has been accompanied by an evaluation of its effectiveness in reducing hand-held phone use while driving. Studies show that passage of a law led to a short term reduction, but in the long term, rates of use of mobile phones were unchanged [4]. For example in New York State, the percentage of drivers using a hand-held phone went from 2.3% before the law, to 1.1% a month after the passage of the law. However 12 months later, hand-held phone use had returned to 2.1%. In New York, the law was well publicized before it came into effect, but not after, and no targeted enforcement was evident. In other places, such as the District of Colombia, the 50% reduction in hand-held use was maintained for at least 12 months, attributed to strict enforcement. It should be noted though that in most cases, legislation banning hand-held phones led to increased use of hands-free devices [5]. As both hands-held and hands-free appear to have negative effects on driving, the effectiveness of this change is questionable.




According to the Japanese Directorate General for Policy Planning and Co-ordination, Japan's total ban on mobile phone use while driving was found to have reduced the number of crashes involving mobile phone use by around 50%, and the number of injuries and deaths in such crashes by 53 and 20 percent respectively.




Research into the effectiveness of strategies to reduce mobile phone use is only just beginning. However comparison to efforts made to reduce drunk driving and increase seat-belt use found that for legislation to be effective, enforcement should involve random checks assessing the specific targeted behavior (as opposed to general checks) that are:

  • Unpredictable
  • Reach a high percentage of drivers and are
  • Highly visible

Enforcement must maintain these standards long term in order to form the perception that the risk of being caught is high. Penalties for offenders should be given as swiftly as possible to ensure that the crime is associated with the punishment. Cameras were found to be the most cost-effective means of enforcement. Public education campaigns when used together with enforcement measures can be effective in raising awareness of the risk of detection and penalties, changing social norms and increasing the impact of enforcement. Public education campaigns in the absence of enforcement have proven ineffectual at changing behaviors. 

  Driver stopped by police


It is important to note that these guidelines were developed to address behaviors such as driving without a seatbelt or driving under the influence of alcohol – behaviors that are easier for the police to identify. Implementing these recommendations for cell phones which can easily be hidden continues to pose a challenge for enforcement. 


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  • DaCoTa (2012) "Driver Distraction" Deliverable 4.8f of the EC FP7 project DaCoTA, a product of the European Commission
  • Dragutinovic, N. and Twisk D. (2005) "Use of mobile phones while driving – effects on road safety" SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, The Netherlands; 
  • Janitzek, T., Brenck, A. Jamson, S. Carsten, O., Eksler, V. (2009) "Study on the regulatory situation in the member states regarding brought-in (i.e. nomadic) devices and their use in vehicles.  Study tendered by the European Commission Final Report", European Union.
  • RoSPA (2002). The risk of using a mobile phone while driving. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents  RoSPA, Birmingham.