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The RAC's latest survey reveals a doubling in acceptance and use of handheld phones behind the wheel in two years, as drivers realise they can "get away with it"...

The number of people driving while using handheld mobile phones has reached “epidemic proportions”, with 31 per cent of people admitting to the crime, according to research by the RAC.

The motoring organisation estimates, based on interviews of more than 1,714 drivers, that 11 million people made or received calls while driving in the last 12 months, with an estimated five million taking photos or videos behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The RAC says that for some, attitudes have relaxed to a worrying degree regarding mobile phone use at the wheel, while mobile phone use becomes one of drivers’ top safety concerns on the road.

Nine years in jail for texting driver who killed cyclist

The RAC puts it: “The survey of over 1,714 UK motorists, now in its 28th year, starkly reveals a perplexing paradox: motorists express frustration with other drivers using a handheld phone and say it is their number-one concern in this year’s report, despite half (49%) of drivers admitting to using their handheld phone at the wheel in stationary traffic during the last 12 months, and a third (31%) who said they have used a handheld phone to make or receive a call while actually driving. Both actions are illegal with the current penalty of a minimum £100 fine and three points on your licence.”

Meanwhile the number of people who feel it is acceptable to talk on a handheld phone and drive doubling from 7 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2016. Likewise, numbers who admit to texting, emailing or posting to social media while driving more than doubled, from 7 to 19 per cent, in the same time.

Last week a nine year prison sentence was given to a driver with eight previous convictions for using his phone at the wheel when he ploughed into a cyclist on the A31 near Bentley, killing him.

Christopher Gard had eight previous convictions for using his phone at the wheel when he hit Lee Martin on August 12, 2015.

Two fifths of motorists rank the use handheld phones while driving among their top four concerns, according to the RAC. However, half of drivers admit to using a phone at the wheel in stationary traffic in the last 12months. Among reasons for doing so were that it was an emergency (23 per cent), they “needed information for their journey” (21 per cent) and that they were simply in the habit of doing so (12 per cent).

Eight per cent did it because “everyone else does it”, seven per cent because they knew they could get away with it.