Researchers from the emergency department of the Royal Melbourne Hospital found that drivers who use handheld mobile phones are four times more likely than other drivers to have a collision - double the risk of drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limit.
The risk of a fatality increased ninefold when using a mobile phone compared with drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.09 who are 11 times more likely to cause death.
"There's been quite a cultural shift with relation to drink driving and I would like to see the public become a lot more aware of the mobile phone driving issue as well."
-Researcher David Taylor
"Inattention is a contributing factor in 35 percent of accidents and police reports indicate that significantly higher rates of accidents related to driver inattention (unsafe speed, driving on the wrong side of the road) are found among drivers using mobile phones," the researchers said in their study which was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
One in five drivers chats at the wheel
During observation tests on city streets and highways in the southern city of Melbourne on three consecutive Friday's last year, the researchers found that around one in five drivers used handheld mobile phones despite 15-year-old laws banning their use.
Lead researcher David Taylor said a cultural shift in attitude was needed to cut road risks.
"There's been quite a cultural shift with relation to drink driving and I would like to see the public become a lot more aware of the mobile phone driving issue as well," he told AFP.
"It has potentially devastating consequences.
"It might take a bit of arm bending to try to improve this nasty statistic that we've demonstrated. People these days almost expect they've got a right to 24-hour, every minute communication on their phone.”
The research found that men were slightly more likely to use a handheld mobile phone when driving while people aged over 50 were the least likely.
Mobile phone use among motorists was also much higher in the evening.