Use of handheld mobile phones at ‘epidemic proportions’

12.00 | 15 September 2016 | | 5 comments

The illegal use of handheld mobile phones is at ‘epidemic proportions’ according to the RAC, whose latest research suggests 11m motorists admit to making or receiving a call while driving in the last 12 months.

Published today (15 September), the research shows that a ‘shocking’ five million say they have taken photos or videos while at the wheel of a moving vehicle. 

Part of the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2016, the research also highlights that attitudes towards handheld mobile use have ‘worryingly relaxed’ over the last two years. 

The proportion of people who feel it is acceptable to take a quick call on a handheld phone has doubled from 7% in 2014 to 14% in 2016 and the percentage of drivers who feel it is safe to check social media on their phone when in stationary traffic, either at traffic lights or in congestion, has increased from 14% in 2014 to 20% in 2016. 

The percentage of drivers who said it was not acceptable to take a quick call at the wheel has correspondingly fallen 6% from 84% in 2014 to 78%.

The RAC says that it is not just attitudes that are shifting – behaviour is changing significantly too with the percentage of drivers who admit to having used a handheld mobile phone while driving having increased to 31%, compared to just 8% in 2014. 

Similarly the proportion of drivers who ‘own up’ to sending a text, email or posting on social media has risen to 19% today compared to 7% just two years ago.

Pete Williams, the RAC’s road safety spokesman, said: “It is alarming to see that some drivers have clearly relaxed their attitudes to the risks associated with this behaviour but more worrying is the increase in the percentage of motorists who actually admit to using a handheld device when driving. 

“The fact that drivers have little or no confidence that they will be caught when breaking these laws is a likely contributor to the problem and it is sadly the case that every day most road users see other drivers brazenly using their handheld phones when in control of a vehicle – a sight which should be a thing of the past.

“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 mobiles phones as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. 

“With compliance on some traffic laws including the use of handheld mobile phones seemingly getting worse, the RAC calls for an end to cuts to dedicated roads policing and urges the Government and chief constables to give greater priority to enforcement of road traffic laws.”

Iain Temperton, Road Safety GB’s director of communication, said: "The figures published by the RAC today show that a lot of work needs to be done to resolve the issue of motorists using their mobile phone while driving.

“It’s a case of personal responsibility. Motorists know it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone when at the wheel, even when they are stationary at traffic lights or in a queue of traffic – and most drivers adhere to those rules.

“Road Safety GB urges drivers to switch off all mobile phones when driving. Using a hands-free mobile phone can also distract drivers’ attention – the safest course of action is to divert calls to voicemail and switch off the phone.”


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    This makes me sick, when will the ministers make a stand on this abhorrent habit instead of just tweaking the fine, make it a mandatory £3,000 persistent offenders will soon get the message, and put the fine into road repair.

    Marco Antonio Liverpool
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    Work it out Charles! If a driver takes their eyes off the road for as long as it takes to look down at their ‘phone and in that period, something happens ahead that they weren’t able to see and react to, that’s how ‘phone use leads to collisions. Stats can’t replace common sense. Next time you’re out and about, pick out a driver using their ‘phone and notice how their driving becomes compromised.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Surely the answer is to have a device in every single vehicle to block the use of mobile devices while the vehicle is in motion and this needs to be by law. These devices are available and this would prevent anyone from every being killed again. Our son-in-law was killed last August by someone texting and he had been in court on his 8th conviction for this and was allowed to keep his licence only 6 weeks previous. If these devices were a requirement of law we would not only cut the costs of the police and the courts and mobile phone use would never be the cause of another death by dangerous driving.

    Susan Lawrence – Staffordshire
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    Do we have any real world UK data that shows that this increased mobile phone use causes any increased road casualties? We need to know what proportion of casualties have phone use as the primary cause and compare that with the proportion of drivers who are using their phones at any given time to know whether phone users are overrepresented in the data or not. It’s easy to say that RCGB data is inaccurate here because it’s difficult to prove phone use, but it’s equally dangerous to assume that because so many are in use they must be playing a bigger part than we know – we need hard data not guesswork. Sure, theoretical lab-based (driving simulators etc.) analysis may suggest there is an increased risk, but they may not reflect what happens in reality on the streets – with risk compensation, or whatever minimising the overall effect.

    Also we know that studies of crash data in the US, where some states have texting bans whilst others do not, have shown that there is little difference in crash rates between the two, and even an increase in the states with the anti-texting laws (see

    And as there is also the possibility that increased penalties will make drivers take greater risks as they try to use their phones whilst trying to conceal them from the outside world – we need to be very careful of what we wish for. Evidence-based policies will always win over policy-based evidence.

    Charles, England
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    There seems to be a huge contradiction between the messages that either Government or road safety organisations and the car manufactures are telling the public with regard to the use of mobile phones and technology in cars.

    Inevitably the public are likely to revert to what they are exposed to the most with regard to publicity.

    Car adverts regarding use of mobile technology are on TV every night, in cinemas, in the papers and on billboards. When did you last see a road safety advert concerning the dangers of mobile phones?

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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