RAC ‘surprised’ at findings of new mobile phone survey

12.00 | 10 July 2017 | | 9 comments

A new survey by the RAC suggests that just three in five of drivers who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel would stop doing so if they caused a collision as a consequence.

The RAC says it is ‘surprised’ the figure is not ‘significantly higher’ given the potential consequences of a collision.

Conducted as part of the RAC’s Be Phone Smart campaign, the survey gave respondents – all of whom admitted to using a mobile phone illegally – a range of scenarios which might stop them committing the offence.

At 60%, being personally responsible for causing an accident came top, followed by being caught by the police (55%), knowing the victim of an accident where handheld phone use was a factor (54%) and causing a near-miss (53%).

The RAC says the findings suggest a ‘sizeable minority of drivers still do not see anything wrong with using a handheld phone illegally, because they believe they are not likely to cause an accident or be stopped by the police’.

The results appear to be at odds with an an earlier survey carried out for the 2016 RAC Report on Motoring in which 86% of motorists who admitted to using a handheld phone claimed they would be willing to give up the habit for good.

In that survey, drivers said the police would have the biggest influence on them stopping (25% of respondents), leading the RAC to suggest that ‘enforcement of the law is key to getting motorists to change their ways’.

Pete Williams, RAC spokesperson for the Be Phone Smart campaign, said: “It seems reasonable to expect that causing an accident while using a handheld phone would be enough to force every driver to change their ways. But our data suggests otherwise – while six in 10 motorists told us they thought that would motivate them to kick the illegal habit, that indicates a remarkable four in 10 didn’t think it would.

“Handheld phone use has become rooted in the behaviour of some drivers and it is going to take a herculean effort to change their mindset.

“No single action will achieve this. We need a combination of education so drivers understand the dangers, and rigorous enforcement so those breaking the law can expect to get caught.

“There have been some positive changes in recent months. Alongside the new tougher penalties, police forces are giving the offence greater focus with regular high-profile operations targeting offenders.

“As our research shows that the actions of the police could be key in making drivers change their ways, this has to be very welcome.”

Jesse Norman MP, recently appointed road safety minister, said: “It is shocking that so many people still use handheld phones at the wheel, which is why I’m calling on families and friends to make it as socially unacceptable as drink driving.”

Want to know more about mobile phones and road safety?
Online library of research and reports etc – visit the Road Safety Knowledge Centre
Key facts and summaries of research reports – visit the Road Safety Observatory


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    Hopefuly you’re not speaking for yourself Bob! I’m sure safety is uppermost in your mind when driving as much as it is with me, but I would agree, we are probably in the minority. I did say that if individuals are so minded, their driving can be incident free if they try, but not all of us do!

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Sorry Hugh but the last thing on a driver’s mind is road safety. They just don’t give a jot and unless required to take evasive action they will allow a situation to arise far into the horizon, that is if their vision allows them to look up and get out of tailgating mode and dipped beam. Then if involved in a collision they will vehemently deny any wrongdoing but say they didn’t see anything until it was too late and that they as the injured party were given no chance to avoid a collision.

    Bob Craven Lancs
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    I agree with Pat partly agreeing with what Charles has said.

    It’s probably a testament to vehicle design and their safety features plus forgiving highways design, that things are not worse than they are. I suspect after decades of the three ‘E’s, the law of diminishing returns applies. It’s now left to the individuals to make it safe for themselves and others – if they can be so minded. Not difficult when you put your mind to it.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Charles, I was with you for the first 3 1/2 paragraphs – until I read: “not ALLOWED to think for themselves” (my emphasis added). More a case, I think, of road users (mainly drivers but not all) lulled into a false sense of security by their normally uneventful journeys, regardless of how little attention they pay to the task of driving. Unfortunately I suspect that there is no consensus of a better way to deal with it though.

    Pat, Wales
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    Driving has been made so easy, the deeply flawed (yet de facto) road user priority model is so well ingrained in all of our souls, and unexpected interruptions to a driver’s progress are so rare, that for most of the time drivers can (and probably do) control their vehicles unconsciously. That is to say that they usually complete their journeys safely without the need to concentrate on the driving task at all – and often arrive at their destination without remembering much, if any, detail of the journey.

    This situation leaves drivers with plenty of bandwidth available to do other things concurrently with driving. They can listen to the radio, talk to passengers, eat snacks, drive at the road speed (rather than necessarily within the speed limit), make phone calls, even compose text messages! With there being such a small risk that any of these other activities will have any significant effect on the outcome of their journey, they are unlikely to stop doing them.

    What this also means though (of course) is that drivers will not be sufficiently prepared to deal with any unexpected “contravention” of their de facto priority (a red-light-jumper, a child or animal running out, sudden braking by the vehicle in front, etc.) and thus serious collisions will needlessly occur from time to time.

    As I see it, attempts to address this problem have entirely missed the point. What we have seen are attempts to relieve the symptoms (mobile phone ban, tinkering with speed limits, adding longer dead-time to traffic light sequences, increased penalties, etc.) but the underlying “disease” (a road system where road users are not allowed to think for themselves) has been left to fester. The result is that we still, after more than a century of attempting to eliminate them, have to add KSI columns to our road safety statistics publications. How can we justify this?

    Isn’t it time now to actually address that underlying disease?

    Charles, England
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    The fact is that most perpetrators of mobile phone use while driving will never be involved in an incident which will reinforce their behaviour.

    I don’t condone mobile phone use. But with at least 30% of drivers in the UK admitting to using mobile phones while driving, this by admission must be several times a day behind the wheel 365 days a year.

    This amount to some 15 billion offences annually as a minimum. Clearly the drivers see the risk of being involved in an incident as negligible.

    As Stephen asks what is the answer?

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    Not unexpectedly perhaps, drivers who have been involved in a collision tend not to accept that they were to blame or that they could have avoided it, so presumably the fact that they may have been using their ‘phone at the time would – to them – not have been a causation factor. That mindset no doubt extends to other common causation factors and bad behaviour as well “There was nothing I could do!” Well, there probably was.

    Trying to get this and other safe driving messages over to those who need telling is frustratingly difficult. It now seems that even being involved in a collision doesn’t teach them anything either.

    Hugh Jones, C
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    I’m not surprised with the findings of this survey, neither am I surprised that people say they will stop once they have a collision. I thought that the new legislation would stop mobile use right down, but unfortunately I was wrong.

    On a daily basis in my own car travelling around I see dozens of drivers who are quite obviously using there phone but have it out of view, they have them just at chest height and on loudspeaker in view at steering wheel height, or have there head hung low and constantly bobbing up and down, with no phone to be seen, and the other one with their mainly right arm off the wheel and talking as they drive.

    All in all very sneeky and hard for any enforcers to detect successfully and I know as I face this challenge just like many traffic cops on a daily basis, so for me we will never eradicate mobile phone when driving behaviour as it is ingrained in society and they feel that is necessary to keep in contact with world whilst driving. What is the answer that we need to know how to rid us of this scourge?

    Stephen Bielizna North West
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    Am I cynical, or are these commercial companies’ surveys deliberately and carefully chosen with one eye on the anticipated attention-grabbing headline they will use to accompany the press release, purely for self-promoting publicity? What a coincidence that the results are always ‘shocking’, ‘surprising’, ‘worrying’, ‘alarming’ etc. etc. – never ‘unremarkable’, ‘dull’ or, more accurately, ‘pointless’.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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