Drivers are more likely to be using their phones to text or look at the internet than to make calls, a Department for Transport (DfT) study has found, suggesting that the war on illegal driver distraction needs to go a lot further than enforcing the use of hands free kit.
DfT observations at 60 locations near the end of last year found that drivers were more likely to have their phone in their hands than up to their ears.
Since 2003 it has been illegal to use a phone held in the hand at all while driving.
But the survey found that 1.4% of car drivers were found to be using a mobile, along with 2.7% of van drivers, most of whom (1.9%) were holding it to their ear rather than in their hand.
Only 1.2% of goods vehicles and lorry drivers were on a phone, with bus, coach and minibus drivers having the lowest usage rate at 0.4%.
1.7% of male drivers used a hand-held mobile phone, compared to 1.3% of females.
On a more positive note, 98.2 per cent of car drivers were observed using seat belts in England and Scotland.
The DfT said: "A distinction was made between drivers holding the phone to their ear (indicating that the driver was receiving or making a call) or holding it in their hand (indicating that the driver may have been receiving or making a call, texting or reading a text, or using it for some other interactive function)."
It acknowledged that "it was not possible for observers to determine what the mobile phone was being used for".
However, it said the finding "suggests that most mobile phone usage whilst driving was for the purposes of sending or receiving a text or using social media rather than making a call".
Chief Inspector Steve Maskrey, commander of the East Staffordshire local policing team, told the Burton Mail:
"Road safety is a big priority for police in East Staffordshire.
"People should understand, though, that it is not worth taking risks on the roads because you can end up having to be dealt with by the police but, more importantly, their actions could have devastating consequences."
Edmund King of the AA said on his blog: “The only way to counter White Van Man’s addiction to mobiles is to have more cops in cars and for employers to take their duty of care more seriously. If not they could face corporate manslaughter charges.
“It's worrying that the percentage of car drivers using a hand-held mobile phone has not gone down since 2009. This shows that there is a hardcore of drivers who still believe there is nothing wrong with their behaviour and continue to put their own lives, and the lives of others, at risk by using their phone behind the wheel.”
In 2013 we reported how researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics analysed eight million crashes in the USA over a three year period from 2002 to 2005 and found no link between conversations being had on mobile phones and collisions - but the results did not include texting and using mobile internet, which have increased enormously in popularity in the following years.
Levels of smartphone ownership have risen dramatically since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, with other brands following it into the market. By the start of 2012, ownership of smartphones had overtaken that of basic mobile phones in the UK, and by the end of this year three in four British adults are expected to own one, according to Mobile Marketing Magazine.
And last year we reported that a minibus driver has been sent to prison for five years and handed a 10-year ban from driving for killing a cyclist while looking at pictures on his mobile phone.
Andrzej Wojcicki, aged 45, had been looking at pictures of vintage sports cars on his phone as he drove at 50 miles an hour on the A472 near Newbridge, Gwent, when he struck cyclist Owain James on Sunday 21 July 2013.
Mr James died later in hospital as a result of the severe injuries he sustained in the crash.