More drivers texting than making calls

12.00 | 25 February 2015 | | 2 comments

While the number of drivers using a hand held mobile phone has increased slightly in the past six years, the majority of those doing so are now texting or using social media rather than making a call, according to data published today (25 Feb) by the DfT.

The DfT commissioned TRL to carry out a mobile phone survey in 2014 across 60 sites in England and 30 sites in Scotland.

In the survey, 1.6% of all drivers were observed using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving, compared to 1.4% when the survey was previously carried out in 2009.

Of those seen using a mobile, 1.1% were holding it in their hand, while 0.5% were holding it to their ear. The DfT suggests that this indicates that “most mobile phone usage whilst driving is for the purposes of sending or receiving a text or using social media, rather than making a call”.

In terms of gender, a higher proportion of male drivers (1.7%) were observed using a hand-held mobile than their female counterparts (1.3%).

With regard to vehicle type, van drivers (2.7%) had the highest overall rate of mobile phone use. The corresponding figures for car drivers and lorry drivers were 1.4% and 1.2% respectively, while bus, coach and minibus drivers had the lowest rate (0.4%).

The IAM says that 1.6% of all drivers equates to “more than 470,000 motorists” using a mobile, and described the results as “very disappointing but not at all surprising”.

Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research, said: “Campaigners routinely talk about the inherent dangers of the distraction caused by mobile phone usage, but drivers never believe they will be caught.

“Campaigns run by THINK! and the DfT need to be revived and invigorated with stronger messages for new drivers and van users. Mobile phone usage at the wheel can kill – there’s no two ways about it.

“Tackling mobile phone usage must be a government priority for 2015. People must have the fear of being caught increased as we believe this is the only viable deterrent, but that needs an increase in visible policing.”


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    I can never understand how someone can even attempt to text or use the internet on a mobile phone and drive – I find texting fiddly at the best of times. I’d be careful about extrapolating the data to create a figure of ‘470,000 motorists’ though – that figure assumes that all 32 million drivers are on the roads at the same time and that behavior is the same amongst all age groups – these are clearly very flawed, too simplistic assumptions.

    Paul Biggs, Staffodshire
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    The best way of spotting a texter is by looking at their steering performance because they stop making subtle steering corrections and instead make dirty great big ones the instant they have their focus back on their direction of travel.

    Drivers attend to the texting task in roughly five second chunks. The first second is taken up acquiring focus on the device, the next three are to do whatever it is with the device and the fifth second is taken up with re-acquiring the road scene.

    Drivers who text soon learn that they can predict how a ‘normal’ situation will unfold over the next five seconds, but what they don’t realise is that an accident only takes three seconds to complete from the beginning of the off-normal event to them twitching in the gutter. The human brain updates its predictions around 200 times a second so 5×200 means that a texter will miss a thousand opportunities to detect the onset of an off-normal situation. If such a situation is detected the moment they re-acquire the road scene then it will probably be far too late for them to do anything to ameliorate the situation. To send an entire text will take much longer than 5 seconds of course, but so long as it’s split into bite-sized chunks then people think they can manage the ensuing prediction shortfall within that time limit. The trouble is that every time they do it and nothing goes wrong (apart from the steering correction) then that reinforces the idea that they can handle the prediction shortfall which encourages them to do it again. What they can’t handle however is the onset of any off-normal situation, but as those situations are usually pretty rare the texting driver soon becomes convinced that texting and driving is not a problem.

    Duncan MacKillop. No surprise – No accident.
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