One in four consider use of phone at wheel it to be more serious than drink-driving

The RAC says that usage of smartphones at the wheel has hit “staggering new levels” among younger drivers, and that one in four motorists now consider it to be a more serious issue than drink driving and say that existing laws are ineffective in combating the problem. The findings are from the organisation’s latest annual Report on Motoring, published today.

Among motorists aged 18-24, almost half admit using their mobile phone while driving, and among specific apps that they agreed took their attention away from the road were music (24 per cent), email (23 per cent) and mapping services such as Google Maps (22 per cent).

One in six use BlackBerry Messenger at the wheel, with a similar proportion confessing to using Twitter at the wheel, and 8 per cent even play games on their phones when they should be concentrating on the road. Texting at the wheel is also on the rise, up to 21 per cent from 14 per cent last year.

While self-reported usage of phones while driving was found to be fairly growing across all age groups, the RAC said that the problem was particularly acute among younger drivers, who have grown up with technology as an ever-present feature of their lives.

Although 82 per cent of motorists agree with the statement that it is dangerous to use a mobile phone while they are driving, 14 per cent say that they feel “confident and safe” doing just that.

Just one in ten drivers believe that existing laws are adequately tackling the problem, while a large majority – 69 per cent – would like to see a “three strikes and you’re out” rule introduced that would see motorists receive a year’s ban if they were caught using their phone three times while at the wheel. More than half of respondents – 53 per cent – wanted more points to be put on the driving licence of those caught.

RAC Motoring Strategist, Adrian Tink commented: “Drivers using handheld mobile phones is still an all too common sight, and one that appears to be getting worse. The popularity of smartphones and apps, especially among younger drivers who’ve grown up with the technology, risks creating a new generation of drivers who believe using a phone behind the wheel is acceptable. This has to change.

“At 70mph your car travels around the length of 6 double decker buses every 2 seconds – if someone told you to close your eyes at that speed for that length of time you’d think they were crazy – yet people are doing virtually the same thing by taking their eyes of the road to look at phones.

“The fact that a quarter of motorists now believe this issue is on a par with drink-driving proves that awareness is growing, but it still lacks the taboo of drink-driving.

“Sustained education and public awareness campaigns have turned drink-driving into a socially unacceptable offence – we need to do the same for using handheld mobile phones behind the wheel. RAC is calling for social media companies to take the lead on this, working with Government and road safety campaigners to educate the public before it’s too late. 80% of motorists want better education on this issue. It needs to happen now.”

Away from mobile phone usage, the report paints a bleak picture for motorists, with journalist and TV presenter Quentin Wilson claiming in the foreword that far from the so-called War on the Motorist being over, as the coalition government asserted after it was formed last year, “the sense of abandonment felt by UK motorists has never been as acute as it is today.”

That’s chiefly because of the spiralling cost of motoring, with fuel and insurance premiums both on the rise, and the report highlights that it is drivers in rural areas, where public transport may be limited if it is available at all, who are having to bite the bullet and accept higher costs.

Wilson says that “for urban motorists, getting to the shops, commuting to work, and doing the school run are all becoming frighteningly expensive. This is forcing people to make unpalatable personal sacrifices,” which hardly makes it sound as though alternative, healthier and cheaper forms of transport such as cycling are viewed as a tempting alternative.

Nevertheless, nearly seven in ten drivers – 68 per cent – in urban areas said that they were walking or cycling more, falling to 46 per cent of people in suburbs and 44 per cent in rural areas.

Fewer than half of the drivers surveyed believe that they could use their car less than they are at the moment, however, illustrating the extent to which many are dependent on their cars, with 43 per cent in urban areas, 34 per cent in the suburbs and21 per cent in rural locations agreeing.

The RAC has issued eight “calls to action” as a result of its research, including investment in areas that can provide an alternative to using the car such as the development of safe cycle routes, as well as better maintenance of the road network including pothole repair.

It has also called on the government as well as companies operating within social media to educate drivers about the dangers of using their phones while driving and other distractions, and that the government also needs to “rigorously enforce” existing laws regarding use of phones at the wheel.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


Simon E [3224 posts] 6 years ago

The police won't do anything, they are too busy hassling cyclists for being on the pavement (while traffic roars past a few inches away) or for riding two abreast in the Surrey countryside at the weekend.

The Hoggs [3496 posts] 6 years ago

With over 24 years as a 24/7 cop i dont think i have stopped one pedal cyclist for riding on the pavement and i will go as far as saying that i dont think any of my shift have done so either as 7 out of 10 of us cycle to work in any case.

Now this is not meant to be any sort of dig at you but on what, Simon E, do you base your input  39

spaceyjase [54 posts] 6 years ago

Aye, please don't confuse the police with community officers (where you have no obligation to stop, by the way).

"80% of motorists want better education on this issue. It needs to happen now."

This'll learn ya: Turn the damn phone off.

giff77 [1294 posts] 6 years ago

@stumpy & spaceyjase its down to the area you live in. Where I am I have never seen unlit, RlJ, pedestrian weaving bike riders stopped by the police. Yet in the next division the police are more than happy to nail a cyclist for the slightest infringement!!

The only reason that people get away with smart phone use while driving is that the phone can be kept out of sight. And it is not obvious until something happens. I think in the case of an accident not only should the attending officers be breathalising the driver but should also request to see the drivers phone.

Paul M [363 posts] 6 years ago

Stumpy you should take a look at the City of London (which is nowhere near as bad as the Met in this respect). When they have blitzes on moving traffic violations, as requested in community liaison meetings, the vast majority (about 80%) of stops and tickets are cyclists, mainly for RLJ. This despite the fact that motorists are still in a majority (though not quite so large a one as you might think) and ASL infringements, RLJs especialy by taxis and motorbikes, are rife.

The Hoggs [3496 posts] 6 years ago

I accept your points, maybe because i dont work large inner cities i dont come across it as much as some.

As for mobile use, drivers get hammered up here. If they deny it we just take their phones off them to get sent off for analysis, usually takes about a month. They are not happy bunnies when they are told that  19

They usually coff the job then.  4

OldRidgeback [2871 posts] 6 years ago

A friend of mine was stopped by the police for riding on the pavement - she was following behind her 5 year old riding on his bike. She explained why she was following her child but was told that even so, it was not allowed. She was not fined but was given an on the spot warning and told not to do it again.

As for the issue of mobiles, there is technology now available that prevents drivers from using phones while at the wheel. It will only be a matter of time before it is fitted to every new vehicle. That will not however deal with the problem in existing vehicles. New generation traffic camera technology can also identify phone using drivers and it's also available so I expect it won't be long until that proliferates on the network amidst cries of infringements on personal liberty.

I see people using phones while driving all the time and have told people to stop but they've simply ignored me. I did take a photo of one as we waited at traffic lights which was rather droll as she flew into an rage and began ranting irately. With my old motorbike I used to take great delight in pulling alongside phone using drivers, pulling in the clutch and revving it up as it had straight through exhausts with no sound baffles and promptly made any conversation in the immediate vicinity impossible.

It is often easy to spot a phone using driver from a distance as they will be weaving within lanes (and sometimes from lane to lane) as they juggle handset and steering wheel. I keep my distance. They are a menace.