Some drivers "addicted" to mobiles, tweeting at the wheel identified as a new menace...

An AA study into the use of mobile phones while driving has concluded that at any one time over 100,000 drivers will be using a hand held mobile phone while driving, even though two thirds expect to go prison if involved in an accident while using one and more than one third rate it as a more serious offence than speeding. The report also identified a new danger, drivers using Twitter while driving.

Such was the level of mobile phone use while driving revealed by the AA's study Hanging on the telephone and its accompanying survey of 11,000 drivers that Andrew Howard, the AA's Head of Road Safety was moved to compare it to an addiction and to call for a drastic change in social attitudes to it – including prosecuting those who knowingly call drivers on their mobiles:

"It is clear that the message on the danger of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving and the possibility of being imprisoned is understood loud and clear. Despite this, many drivers seem determined to continue.

"The question has to be asked: is this a rational decision, or the manifestation of an addiction?"

"In the immediate future we need to change social attitudes to the car phone and increase the likelihood of being caught. It is not just the driver who needs to be targeted, but also the people who receive or make calls to drivers".

Most drivers are aware of the penalties for using a mobile when driving, however they were also aware of the slim likelihood of getting caught. In 2007 122,000 people were convicted of driving while using a mobile phone which if the AA figures are right equates to a little over one second's worth of all the offences committed in one year. The study shows that while raising penalties for the offence does have a short term effect in reducing the numbers of drivers using hand held mobiles, this quickly wears off. road.cc recently reported on Roadpeace campaigner Allan Ramsey's petition to Number 10, backed by British Cycling, for much harsher punishments for motorists using their phones while driving – the AA evidence suggests that a more effective strategy would be to get the police to enforce existing legislation more rigourously.

Hanging on the telephone looks at mobile phone use and drivers' attitudes to it and reveals that when it comes to using our mobile phones in our cars we are a nation of conflicted drivers. Alongside the study the AA also surveyed over 11,000 drivers on the subject. Among their findings were that 53 per cent of drivers rated using a hand held mobile phone while driving as on a par with drink driving.

While more than half (52 per cent) of those surveyed said they had never used a hand held mobile phone while driving an even greater number (55 per cent) said they would be tempted to answer their mobile if it rang while they were driving and 38 per cent said they would be unable to turn it off while driving. The report examines a number of factors that could explain this phenomenon including economic pressures (particularly on the self employed) and generational differences (the young took a less dim view of mobile phone use while driving than older people and women). However, the report also identifies a significant group of middle aged drivers who are also wedded to their mobiles.

Sobering facts

A Government study into driving while using a hand held mobile phone found that:

While driving performance under the influence of alcohol was significantly worse than normal driving, it was better than driving while using a hand-held phone.
Drivers in the study also reported that it was easier to drive drunk than while using a mobile phone.

Texting while driving also affected reaction-time performance more than driving while
over the legal limit for alcohol, but less than driving while using a hand held phone.

The police estimate that 25 people were killed in 2007 in accidents using mobile phones and 323 injured – these figures are widely accepted to be an underestimate. A significant proportion of those killed in such incidents are likely to be more vulnerable road users and pedestrians. A recent report by the National Audit Office found that while Britain's roads were getting safer for drivers they were getting more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.

To illustrate the phenomenon of tweeting on the go the study's authors had a quick look at Twitter and here are some of the examples of what they found…

No downtime to tweet except driving"
Twitter and driving at the same time is not good glad weren't no cops around"
Twitter how I love you. Driving home such a great day"
Driving home from work, shouldn't twitter drive"
I'm driving top down"
Awake ,hung-over and driving"
Trying to stay awake driving"
Tweeting past a billboard as I speed"

Commenting on tweeting drivers Edmund King, AA President and an active user of Twitter (@AAPresident) said; "This raises a concern that without concerted publicity and police campaigns to crack down on texting or tweeting at the wheel the problems and dangers will increase.”  

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.