RAC report reveals huge rise in use of mobiles at the wheel

90% of motorists claim to be law abiding, yet almost a third admit to using mobiles on the road

A new survey has highlighted a shocking increase in the number of motorists using their mobile phones to talk, text and surf social networks while in their cars. The findings are contained in the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2010, which also discovered widespread support for compulsory medical tests to be introduced for drivers aged 70 and over.

According to the RAC report, the percentage of drivers admitting to breaking the law by using their mobile phone without a hands-free kit while driving – defined as “either while moving or sat at lights or stationary in a traffic jam” – has more than trebled from 8% to 28%, with the proportion of those who text while driving climbing from 11% to 31%, or nearly one in three motorists.

Drivers aged 25-44 were the worst offenders, according to the report, with 14% of them admitting taking a call while driving and 26% while their vehicle is stationary, but nearly half of those – 46% - claimed it did not distract them. Younger drivers were also the most likely to text while at the wheel, 14% of them saying that they had done so while actually driving, and 40% while their vehicle was temporarily stationary.

With smartphone penetration now standing at in excess of one in four adults in the UK, and higher among younger mobile phone users, the ability to access social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as email and mapping applications while on the move provide a further potential distraction for drivers, with one in five – 21% - saying that they have done so.

Despite the scale of the admission of breaking the law by using mobile phones while driving, together a confession by more than half of respondents – 57% - that they break the 30mph speed limit in urban areas and a whopping three quarters saying they exceed 70mph on motorways, fully 90% of drivers claim to be “law abiding.”

However, citing Department for Transport statistics for 2009 that showed that motorists using mobile phones had been responsible for 31 fatal crashes and a total of 534 casualties, with the wider issue of in-vehicle driver distraction causing 65 deaths, 469 serious injuries and a total of 4,763 casualties, the RAC has issued a call for “focussed enforcement and stronger policing of existing laws on mobile phone usage.”

Meanwhile, in his foreword to the report, former racing driver Sir Stirling Moss, aged 80, lends his support to medical tests for drivers aged 70 and over, acknowledging that while statistically older drivers are less likely to be involved in a crash, “we are more likely to be the cause of an accident whether we are caught up in it or not.” He adds that it is “a sign that our reaction times, eyesight, hearing, perception of speed and distance are not what they once used to be.”

Other findings from the report, based on a sample of 1,150 British drivers, include 97% of respondents being concerned about drivers who drink or use drugs, 96% who are concerned about mobile phone usage when driving – at odds with the figures regarding motorists’ own admitted engagement in the activity – and 95% who highlighted those who drive with no tax or insurance (with the report referring to Vehicle Excise Duty as “the new road tax” – ‘road tax,’ of course having been done away with as recently as 1937).

In a press release accompanying the launch of the report, RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink said: "It’s extremely concerning that the use of mobile phones for texting and calling has risen in the past year. It is also worrying that people are admitting to using their phone for a whole host of social media applications while driving.

“Taking your eye off the road, just for a second, to read an alert or check who a call came from can have potentially fatal results. This steep rise in mobile phone usage at the wheel could potentially be set to continue as more and more people embrace smart phone technology.

“Many people do not realise it is an offence to use a mobile phone while a vehicle is stationary in a lay-by, traffic jam, traffic lights or at the side of the road, with the engine running. RAC is calling for existing laws around mobile phone usage to be strictly enforced and for the government to consider widening safety campaigns to educate motorists about the dangers of using a mobile phone at the wheel.”

The RAC noted in its press release that “a motorist glancing at their phone is estimated to take their eye off the road for approximately two seconds,” adding that “for a car travelling at 30mph, this means a motorist would be distracted from the road for 27 metres. At 70mph, this more than doubles to 63 metres, equivalent to the length of six double decker buses, with the car driver largely unaware of their surroundings and the behaviour of other road users."

It continued: “When you add this to the typical stopping distance of 96 metres, it could even be as far as 123 metres (at 30mph) and 159 metres (at 70mph), equivalent to the length of 14 double decker buses, before the driver is able to bring the vehicle to a complete standstill.”

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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