The number of drivers using their mobile phones at the wheel - and breaking the law in the process - has reached epidemic proportions, according to a new report from the RAC.
Research by the breakdown cover provider revealed that 11 million motorists have admitted using a mobile phone while driving in the past year - with some even saying they were taking photos at the wheel. The RAC’s research found that 14% of motorists think it is acceptable to take a quick call from a handheld phone while driving - a number that’s doubled since 2014.
Similarly, the percentage of drivers checking social media websites - such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook - while driving has increased from 14% in 2014 to 20% today. The survey revealed that 78% of drivers thought it was unacceptable to take a call while driving - down from 84% two years ago.
Unsurprisingly, it was young drivers under the age of 24 who admitted most to taking pictures while driving - 36% said they had done this while driving, and 44% said they had done so in stationary traffic.
When questioned on the reasons why they were using their phones at the wheel, 23% said it was an emergency situation, while more than a fifth (21%) said they needed information relevant to their journey. Perhaps most shockingly, 12% admitted they were simply in the habit of checking their phone while driving.
Despite the increase in mobile phone use at the wheel, 41% of those surveyed said that mobile phone use was among their top four safety concerns, ranking ahead of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
It’s worth remembering that using a handheld phone - as opposed to using a phone paired to your car via Bluetooth, Mirrorlink, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto - to make or receive a call while driving is illegal and carries a penalty of £100 as well as three points on your licence.
An impact on safety
The safety implications of using a mobile phone while driving are well known. The Transport Research Laboratory has found that the reaction times of drivers using a mobile phone while driving were 30% slower than those who had exceeded the drink driving limit. The group has also suggested that 10-30% of road accidents in the EU are at least partially caused by distraction.
Similarly, data from the Department for Transport shows that a driver “impaired or distracted” by a mobile phone was a contributing factor in 21 fatal road accidents in 2014.
Commenting on its findings, the RAC said it has “frequently highlighted the problem of a lack of enforcement being a significant factor in the level of driving offences in the UK. In particular budget constraints on police forces across the country have significantly impacted roads policing and reduced the ability to catch and prosecute offenders.”
This corresponds with 7% of those surveyed saying they used their phone while driving because they knew they could get away with it.
Government consults for tougher penalties
The Government is shortly due to announce the results of a consultation into mobile phone use while driving, and it seems certain that the current £100 fine and three points will rise to £150 and four points for most drivers. HGV drivers will face stricter penalties.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “The use of handheld mobile phones is the biggest road safety concern among motorists today, and while the Government is progressing the introduction of stiffer penalties, we call on all stakeholders to step up efforts to shift cultural attitudes and make the use of handheld mobile phones as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.”
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