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.”