Drivers making the wrong call

Almost every driver in the UK regularly sees other motorists using handheld mobile phones behind the wheel.

An RAC survey of more than 2,000 drivers found that 95% of us are used to the sight of drivers fiddling with handheld mobile phones in standstill traffic. In fact, 64% of motorists reported seeing at least one driver committing the offence in the last hour they spent driving.

Meanwhile, three in 10 motorists say they have used a handheld phone at the wheel themselves; 29% claim they do it occasionally whilst the other one per cent show utter contempt for the current law, which came into force 13 years ago, saying they use their handheld phones on most journeys.

The main reason cited by 61% of respondents for occasional phone use at the wheel was to make a short call. Half (49%) of those admitting to using a handheld phone when driving said they had checked email or text messages, and a similar percentage (47%) had sent a text message.

While there is little difference in illegal phone use between male and female drivers; more men admit to using a handheld phone at the wheel than women (64% and 57%), whereas more women than men own up to sending a text (52% and five per cent).

In age terms, almost a third of those surveyed (31%) say they see drivers of all ages committing the offence, but unsurprisingly the problem appears to be most prevalent in those under the age of 40 with 50% claiming they most frequently see drivers of this age group on their phones, either in a moving or stationary vehicle.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said, ‘Thirteen years after the introduction of the current law forbidding use of a handheld phone at the wheel of a vehicle, this behaviour is far from being stamped out. In fact, the results of our research suggests the problem has got worse rather than better.

‘The lack of a high profile advertising campaign similar to the ones targeting drink-drivers and speeders has not helped, nor has the decline in the number of roads police officers as there is very little fear among offenders of being caught. As a society we need to change drivers’ thinking to make them understand the serious consequences their decision to use their handheld phones can have. Using a handheld phone should be regarded as being as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.

‘There seems to be an unfortunate perception that a quick look at a phone at the traffic lights is okay. However, it is a significant distraction which at best may hold up other road users when a driver doesn’t notice that the lights have changed, and at worst may increase the risk of a collision with a pedestrian, cyclist or another vehicle.’

‘The government is looking at increasing the penalties for using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel and whilst this is welcome, there has to be a similar effort put in to enforcing these laws. Worryingly, the most recent data indicates that the number of fixed penalty notices issued has declined. And, with illegal phone use at epidemic levels now is the time for the government to find the money for a high impact public awareness advertising campaign.’

The RAC research also shows the strength of feeling about those who use their handheld phone at the wheel, with 76% believing offenders are putting other people’s lives at risk and 60% saying they are ‘selfish and irresponsible’.