Dubai: Talking on a mobile phone while driving is nearly as dangerous as drink driving, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) warned on Thursday.

Mobile phone use has become a “pressing” issue in Dubai and worldwide, said Hussain Al Banna, director of traffic at the RTA’s Traffic and Roads Agency.

He added that studies indicate the performance of a driver engaged in a phone conversation is as poor as 80 per cent of the performance of a driver under the influence of alcohol.

In Dubai, using a handheld mobile phone while driving attracts a fine of Dh200. However, it is tolerated through the use of wireless headsets or accessories fitted to vehicles.

Some countries, such as Japan, Singapore and Portugal, have a blanket ban on mobile phone use, regardless of wireless or hands-free aids.

Citing research on the topic, Al Banna said the potential of a crash multiplies five times when the driver starts making a mobile phone call even if using hands-free devices.

Mobile phones’ impact on concentration cannot be under stressed, he added, as a recent study commissioned by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded that 80 per cent of crashes relate to drivers who lost concentration in the last two or three seconds before the crash.

“Making a telephone call that takes five seconds translates into a covering a distance of 130 meters by a vehicle traveling at a speed of 95km/h, and drivers who experience traffic accidents while busy with the mobile phone can’t recollect how such accidents took place,” he said.

“Using the mobile phone during driving might disable one or both hands from holding the steering wheel, and glimpsing the mobile phone takes the driver’s sight off the road. One of these causes is sufficient to make the driver prone to a traffic accident risk, and this risk multiplies whenever more factors are involved.”

Al Banna added that the department is actively raising public awareness on the issue to reduce traffic incidents.