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Feature: Deadly distraction – how modern technology is viewed by Britain’s drivers

Thursday 16th October 2014

The risk of distraction by technology - particularly smartphones - is a growing concern for Britain’s motorists, according to an annual report by the RAC which “explores British motorists’ relationship with their car”.

Based on the views of more than 1,500 drivers, and commentary by a panel of motoring experts, the RAC Report on Motoring 2014 examines motorists’ behaviours, attitudes and beliefs in a bid to “paint the most detailed and accurate picture yet of what makes drivers tick”.

‘Deadly distraction’ - and not just for drivers
When it comes to safety, the report says that drivers see mobile phones as the most deadly distraction.

34% of those interviewed said they worry about other drivers being distracted by their mobile phones. This rises to 49% among older motorists aged 65+ years  – an increase of 9% in the past 12 months.

75% of respondents said they regularly see people people chatting on their mobile phone while driving, and 44% claim to see this during most of their car journeys.

However, just 8% of those interviewed admitted to doing it themselves, leading the report to conclude that they are either being economical with the truth or “do not consider themselves as lawbreakers” when it comes to using their mobile while driving.

The report says that drivers are also worried about young people being distracted by modern technologies; 31% of respondents said that smartphones make children “dangerously oblivious to their surroundings”. This figure rises to 39% among motorists aged over 45 years.

Fuel and potholes - the top drivers’ grumbles
The report says cost of fuel and state of Britain’s roads remain the two biggest concerns of drivers.

47% of those interviewed still rank the cost of fuel as their biggest motoring concern, though the percentage has reduced slightly in the past 12 months.

However, the report says that motorists are getting “more and more concerned about the state of Britain’s roads and the sheer number of potholes”, particularly on local roads.

The report says the “pothole epidemic” is a major worry for 41% of respondents this year, compared to 36% last year. 66% of those interviewed believe that local roads have been “neglected by the authorities” and have deteriorated over the last 12 months as a result. More than three quarters of older drivers (77%) rate this as a top concern.

Neglecting the Highway Code
The report says that motorists are “failing to maintain their knowledge of motoring laws and driving best practice”. It says “only a small minority” knew the recommended stopping distances at 70mph and at 30mph, and that the majority “seriously underestimated the correct stopping distances”.

The report also highlights a lack of understanding of the law on new driving offences such as tailgating and hogging the middle lane, and says “a majority of motorists don’t understand the law regarding using mobile phones while driving”. To back up this claim, it says that the vast majority of respondents think it is “perfectly legal to send texts while their car is stationary with the engine running”.

Support for motorway speed increase
The report says that drivers are more likely to speed on motorways than on other roads, and a healthy majority (70%) would like to see the speed limit on motorways increased. 58% of respondents think the speed limit for motorways should be 80mph or above.

67% of those interviewed admitted to exceeding the speed limit on motorways, an increase of 2% and 4% on 2013 and 2012 respectively.

While 41% said it is perfectly acceptable to travel at up to 80mph in a 70mph limit, just 12% think it is acceptable to drive at 40mph in a 30mph limit.

Drivers uncomfortable in adverse conditions
When it comes to conditions such as heavy rain, snow or ice, the report says that many drivers feel “distinctly uncomfortable, with many actually avoiding driving altogether in these situations”.

79% admitted to feeling uncomfortable driving on icy roads and 95% of those try to avoid driving in these conditions. 72% are uncomfortable driving in snow, and 96% of those avoid driving in these conditions whenever they can. Young drivers are more likely to feel uncomfortable (85%) in snowy conditions than older, more experienced drivers (75%).

Acknowledgement
We are grateful to the RAC for allowing us to analyse its 2014 Report on Motoring in this feature.

Got an idea for a feature?
If you would like to submit a feature, or suggest a topic for a feature, simply email Nick Rawlings, editor of Road Safety News.

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There are always distractions or potential distractions inside or outside a vehicle - passengers, kids in the back etc, but drivers have to manage distraction, maintaining observation, alertness and concentration. Steering wheel ergonomics have helped for tuning the radio and changing the volume, for example. Personally, I don't look at the speedometer too often - I look where I'm going and what's going on around me on the road - slowing down, stopping or speeding up accordingly.
Paul Biggs, Staffodshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)
0

Listening and if necessary responding to what a passenger next to you is saying whilst you're looking ahead, concentrating on driving, is difficult enough, but what I often see are drivers actually turning their heads to talk to their passengers for two or three seconds at a time. Potentially fatal.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (24) | Disagree (2)
+22

I would concur with Paul's comment on texting and driving under the influence, but speaking whilst driving? How often does one speak or are spoken to by passengers whilst driving - does that also represent a danger? Yes, it does, but to begin issuing penalties for same is extreme. I'm reluctant to converse with passengers for that very reason, but would not accept penalties for same. Suggest everyone rides a motorcycle solo, and switch off any communication device.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (15) | Disagree (2)
+13

People caught using a phone to TEXT (reading or composing) while driving should face an instant ban and / or 6 points.

People caught SPEAKING on a hands free mobile phone while moving should face a 4 point sanction.

People caught "with weed" or under the influence of other illicit drugs in their systems should face the same sanctions a drink driver does - but instead of the law being 80 mg or 35 on their breath, it should be treated as a zero allowance so they get a 12 month (or more) ban.

We all have a responsibility to other people when we go on the roads. Let's not be selfish about their safety, eh?
Paul from Barking

Agree (12) | Disagree (14)
-2

I quote, 'The report also highlights a lack of understanding of the law on new driving offences such as tailgating and hogging the middle lane.' The fact that the person writing the report thinks that the two actions mentioned have been made specific offences under Road Traffic law says a lot about it. They are not 'new offences'; they are now more easily dealt with by way of a FPN.

I do not need to know what percentage of drivers see others using a mobile phone, but do not admit to doing it themselves. What I want is more officers employed on Roads Policing duties so that offenders are caught. People stick to laws only when they perceive a realistic chance of their being caught.
David, Suffolk

Agree (37) | Disagree (2)
+35