This paper presents the results of a review on the use of mobile phone while driving and seeks members' advice on a proposal to regulate the use of hand-held mobile phone while driving.


2. There has been concern that the proliferation of mobile phones and their use by drivers will become a safety hazard for drivers and other roads users alike. The Transport Department has conducted research on overseas regulatory practices and accident statistics.

Overseas Regulatory Regime

3. The Transport Department conducted a study of 13 overseas countries on their legislative frameworks on the use of mobile phone while driving. The detailed findings of the study are at Annex A.

4. There are basically two types of mobile car phones, namely hand-held and hands-free types. None of the 13 countries prohibits the use of hands-free mobile phone while driving.

5. Specific legislation prohibiting the use of hand-held phone while driving exists in 5 out of the 13 countries, namely Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia (only in the states of New South Wales and Victoria). However, most of these countries indicated that such prohibition was mainly based on the perceived detrimental effect on driving performance rather than comprehensive scientific researches.

6. Countries which do not have any specific legislation against the use of mobile phone while driving consider that there are insufficient scientific evidence and accident statistics to justify such legislation. In Hong Kong, the existing road traffic legislation requires a driver to maintain proper control of the vehicle with due care and attention and a person whose driving is impaired by the use of a mobile phone could be prosecuted for careless driving. UK, New Zealand and some states in Australia also adopt similar practice.

Overseas Researches

7. Sweden, Canada, USA and Japan have conducted researches on the effects of using mobile phone while driving. A summary of the study results is presented below.


8. The University of Toronto has assessed the risk of a collision associated with using mobile phones while driving. The study surveyed 699 drivers who were involved in accidents causing substantial damage in a 14-month period. It was found that the use of mobile phone while driving was associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of having a collision. Although the study did not conclude that drivers were at fault in all of those collisions, it found that the use of mobile phone could have reduced the driver's ability to react in an emergency situation.


9. A study was conducted to examine the correlation between mobile phone use and accident by investigating the amount of time per month drivers spent in vehicles on mobile phones and 18 other types of distraction such as eating, smoking, drinking, talking with others, adjusting radio, etc. Data obtained from 100 randomly selected drivers who were involved in accidents were compared with those obtained from a control group of 100 randomly selected drivers who were accident-free over the previous 10 years. The results indicated that driver who spent more than 50 minutes per month on mobile phones in vehicles was 5.59 time more likely to have an accident. The use of mobile phone as a single behaviour has the highest correlation with accident. However, the study could not establish a causal relation between the use of mobile phone while driving and traffic accidents.


10. A number of simulation studies on the changes in driver behaviour when using hands-free mobile phone had been carried out. The following findings were noted:-
  1. the reaction time of the drivers was increased by about 0.4 second;

  2. the ability to keep the vehicle to the centre of lane was slightly affected;

  3. the degree of distraction increased with length of time the driver was talking on the phone; and

  4. the above effects were more pronounced in elderly drivers.
The above results indicated that using mobile phone while driving might have adverse effect on driving performance.


11. An survey to study the effects of mobile phone usage on driving has been conducted by the Automobile Safety Driving Centre Survey Research Committee. The study revealed that the use of mobile phone while driving would reduce eyesight movements and hence concentration on movements on the road. It would also reduce drivers' ability to react to emergencies as drivers on the phone were found to require a longer time to apply to the brake. Moreover, as compared with hands-free mobile phone, the use of hand-held phone would have greater adverse effect on driving performance and also divert drivers' eyesight off the road for a longer time when receiving a phone call.

Overseas accident statistics

12. Only 3 out of 13 surveyed countries have compiled accident statistics involving the use of mobile phone while driving, i.e. New South Wales of Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

13. In New South Wales where hand-held car phone law was introduced in 1989, 2 fatal collisions and 3 serious injury collisions involving the use of mobile phones occurred during the 3-year period of 1993 to 1995. This represents 0.03% of all the serious casualty collisions, or 3% of those serious casualty collisions where the driver was distracted by in-vehicle activities.

14. In New Zealand, where no car phone law exists, of the 265 injury crashes in which drivers were suspected to have been distracted through some forms of in-vehicle activities in 1995, only 10 (about 4%) involved the use of mobile phone. It is noted that other forms of distraction within the vehicle such as adjusting radio (42 crashes) or smoking (19 crashes) are more common causes of crashes than the use of mobile phone.

15. In Japan, where there is also no car phone law, it is recorded that of the total 780,399 injury traffic accidents in 1997, 2,297 (0.29%) involved the use of mobile phone while driving. About two-third of them occurred when drivers were making or receiving phone calls.

Hong Kong Situation

16. At present, there is no specific legislation in Hong Kong that controls the use of mobile phone while driving. Drivers may be charged with "careless driving" if they fail to maintain proper control of the car for whatever reasons, including the use of mobile phone. In the Road Users' Code, drivers are advised not to use mobile phone while driving and if necessary, calls should be made after stopping or parking the vehicle at a safe place, or by passengers instead.

17. Analysis of local accident statistics over the past 5 years indicates that there were few injury traffic accidents involving the use of mobile phone while driving (approximately 2 cases on the average, out of a total of about 15,000 injury accidents per year (0.013%)). A breakdown of the accidents is shown in Annex B. The statistics may not be a true reflection of the size of the problem as no sane drivers involved in accidents would readily admit to the Police of being on mobile phone when the accidents occurred.

18. The ownership rate of mobile phone per population in Hong Kong is 35%. When compared to those of overseas countries, Hong Kong's mobile phone ownership rate ranks one of the highest in the world. A summary of the relevant ownership rate in various countries is shown in Annex C.


19. Whilst falling short of establishing a causal relation, overseas researches suggest that the use of mobile phone while driving causes distraction to drivers and affects the driver's reaction time in emergency. As a result, the risk of involving in accidents increases significantly. Drivers who use mobile phone while driving have also been found to have a higher risk of collision.

20. In so far as evidence for the increased risk of traffic accident is not conclusive, it is considered that the case for legislating or not legislating against the use of phones while driving is finely balanced. If we are to legislate, and having regard to the current state of overseas practice, we should focus on legislating against the use of hand-held phones. Such legislation will help promote safe driving and reinforce a clearer message of "Don't phone and drive".

21. We have carried out surveys on the availability of hands-free kits for mobile phone in the local market and found that they are available for most models of mobile phone. Usually, one set of hands-free kit consists of a mounting base, an extended clip microphone and a speaker box. The cost of a hands-free kit ranges from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on the models whereas the installation cost, which is required for some models, ranges from $1,000 to $1,500. However, with the rapid development of hands-free kits for mobile phone and the likely increase in demand for such equipment if the proposal to prohibit the use of hand-held phone while driving is implemented, it is expected that the costs of hands-free kits will fall. The additional cost upon drivers who have a real need to use mobile phone in cars will be minimised.

22. It is necessary to consider whether mobile radios which are commonly used by drivers of taxis, coaches, and express delivery vehicles, etc. should be prohibited as well. It is noted that there are operational needs for those drivers to use such communication devices. The operation of mobile radios is relatively simple and the conversation with the radio control centre is usually very brief. The effect of such equipment on vehicle control would be comparatively less than that of mobile phone. We will consult the relevant trades to see what can be done to overcome difficulties to comply with a "hands-free" requirement.

23. We will review the case for legislative control in the light of the views gathered through the consultation procedures.

Advice Sought

24. Members are invited to advise whether the following should be pursued:-
  1. to legislative against the use of hand-held mobile phone while driving; and

  2. to consult the relevant trade which use mobile radio to see if they can also comply with the "hands free" requirement.
Transport Bureau
November 1998

Annex A

Summary of overseas practices on control of mobile phones while driving

CountrySpecific Car
Phone Laws
PenaltyReasons for/against specific
Other existing
Israel Yes (prohibit hand-held phone only) Fine 750 NIS No reason has been given for the legislation No information
Malaysia Yes (prohibit hand-held phone only)
  • 1st offence: max. fine 1,000 ringgits or imprisonment up to 3 months

  • Subsequent offence: max. fine 2,000 ringgits or imprisonment up to 6 months or both
The issue regarding the use of hand-held phone while driving has been assessed. The results showed that such use is detrimental to driving performance. No information
Singapore Yes (prohibit hand-held phone only) Fine of S$ 170 and 9 demerit points No reason has been given for the legislation No information
Switzerland Yes (prohibit hand-held type only) Fine of 100 swiss francs According to art. 3 of the Swiss Traffic Regulations, a motorist must always focus on the road and the nearby traffic situation. The Swiss Federal Court made a judgment in 1994 that the above regulation may be violated in the case of using a hand-held phone while driving as this is an activity which makes drivers more difficult to maintain control over a vehicle. However, using hands-free phones are still allowed. Accordingly, a specific fixed-penalty offence on use of hand-held phone while driving is made. No information
Australia Yes (prohibit hand-held type in New South Wales and Victoria only) Information not available Legislation was made in response to public concern on the potential risk of using mobile phone while driving and the availability of hands-free equipment In other states, the use of car phone while driving is dealt with by provisions requiring drivers to drive with due care and attention.
Canada No N.A. There is insufficient scientific evidence to justify such a regulation No information
New Zealand No N.A. There are relatively few reported injury and fatal crashes involving mobile phone use to justify specific legislative control Charged with careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury.
Japan No N.A. Further studies on overseas cases would be required for justifying such a regulation. No information
Korea No N.A. No studies No information
Taiwan No N.A. No studies No information
United Kingdom No N.A. No studies. The existing regulations also cover this malpractice.
USA No national policy on prohibition N.A. Mobile phone can help stranded motorists get out of trouble and summon medical personnel to crash scene more quickly. Uniform Vehicle Code prohibits driving a vehicle while wearing a headset
SwedenNo N.A. Although many research studies have been carried out to examine the association of mobile phone use with traffic accidents, no specific legislation on control of car phones is made. No information

Annex C

Mobile phone/population

Hong Kong35%as of May 1998

Countries where use of hand-held phone while driving is prohibited
Australia31%as of January 1998
Israel40%as of January 1998
Malaysia11%as of March 1998
Singapore28%as of May 1998
Switzerland18%as of June 1998

Countries where use of hand-held phone while driving is not prohibited

Canada16%as of January 1998
France12%as of May 1998
Germany12%as of May 1998
Japan32%as of May 1998
Korea17%as of January 1998
New Zealand16%as of March 1998
Sweden38%as of March 1998
Taiwan7%as of January 1998
United Kingdom16%as of May 1998
United States22%as of May 1998