The mere presence of a mobile phone: does it influence driving performance?

Priscilla Chee*, Julia Irwin, Joanne M. Bennett, Ann J. Carrigan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The ubiquity of mobile phones has led to a rapid increase in its presence and use in vehicles, especially among young adults (up to 25 years), who are generally the least experienced group of drivers. The potential for phones to draw attention away from the main driving task has significant consequences for road safety. Previous studies have found that the mere presence of a mobile phone can be distracting by impairing attention in experimental non-driving contexts. However, the effect of phone presence, independent to usage, has not yet been examined in the context of driving. As such, the present study examined whether the mere presence of a mobile phone, its proximity to the driver, and power status (on/off) influenced the driving performance of young drivers. Additionally, this study assessed whether the effects of phone presence and proximity were moderated by an individual's level of dependence on, or emotional attachment to, their phone. A sample of 127 undergraduate psychology students (M = 19.76, SD = 1.63) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: (1) phone absent (control), (2) phone on, in holder, (3) phone off, in holder, and (4) phone on, in pocket. They all completed the same simulated drive, and were measured for degree of phone dependence and phone emotional attachment. Overall, drivers in all the phone present conditions made significantly more driving errors (speeding and collision) compared to those in the phone absent (control) condition, irrespective of proximity to the phone and whether it was on or off. Phone dependence, but not phone emotional attachment, moderated the effect of phone presence on speeding behaviour. These findings suggest that the mere presence of a phone is distracting for drivers, especially so for those who are highly dependent on their phone, which may place them at a greater risk of a distraction induced crash.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106226
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalAccident Analysis and Prevention
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • phone presence
  • phone proximity
  • phone dependence
  • distracted driving
  • young drivers


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