Up to nine million drivers could still be habitually using their phones at the wheel, despite tougher penalties, according to the RAC.
In a survey of more than 1,700 people 26% who knew about increased penalties, which were introduced in March, admitted they still use their phone while driving. Extrapolated to the general population this, the RAC warns, could mean 9m people are still driving and using a handheld phone, knowing the risks.
Of the 89% aware of changes - the equivalent of 5.7m drivers - 16% said they no longer phone and drive since the law change, while a further 11% (3.9m) say they curbed their illegal behaviour ‘a little’. Driving while using a mobile phone is thought to be more dangerous than drink driving in impairing driving ability, but with cuts to roads policing, there are simply fewer officers to catch offenders, reducing the risk of being caught.
Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “Despite the law change and some high profile police enforcement campaigns we are in a situation where overall roads policing officer numbers are down on 2016 by a massive 30% since 2007.
“It is clear we have a hard core of persistent offenders who believe they can get away with it by continuing to flout the law every day and we fear this may get worse with fewer dedicated roads policing officers.”
A whopping 16% of drivers admitted to taking photos or video at the wheel. The survey, which was part of the RAC's Report on Motoring 2017 shows use of mobile phones increases in stationary traffic.
Jason Wakeford, Brake’s director of campaigns, said: “The illegal use of handheld mobile phones when driving is a growing menace and a major threat to road safety.
“Research shows that using a phone at the wheel affects reaction times as much as drink driving, increasing the chances of a crash.
“As a society, we have become addicted to our mobiles. Drivers should always put phones on silent and out of reach in the glove compartment.
“The mobile phone industry must also play its part, including technology as standard which helps keep drivers' attention on the road, saving lives and preventing serious injuries.”
New tougher penalties, introduced in June, mean offenders could now face six penalty points and a £200 fine, rising to £1,000 with a court appearance (£2,500 for lorry or bus drivers) and a driving ban. This represented a doubling of previous penalties.
According to the RAC one in five motorists admit to checking social media in traffic.
As the new penalties were introduced, Cycling UK warned that without the deterrent of enforcement drivers will continue to drive while using mobile phones. In a blog, Duncan Dollimore said: “Penalties and enforcement are therefore two sides of the same coin, exactly the point many witnesses have made to the APPCG (All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group) with reference to traffic officer numbers, targeted enforcement such as West Midlands’ Police Close Pass Operation, and the use of driving disqualification as a penalty.”