More than twice as many drivers now admit illegally texting at the wheel compared to this time last year according to a new survey from Halfords, accompanied by a fourfold increase in those who use their handsets to check social networking sites.
A Onepoll online survey of 2,083 drivers conducted on behalf of the retailer found that while almost nine in ten respondents said that using a handheld mobile while driving created a danger to the motorist and other road users, many were themselves guilty of that behaviour.
Respondents also ranked illegally using a mobile without Bluetooth or a hands-free kit as their third most hated behaviour among other drivers, with inconsiderate driving and drink driving ranked higher.
According to Halfords, key findings include:
35 per cent of drivers admit reading text messages, which rises to 57% of under-25s
19 per cent use their smartphone to access social networking sites or the internet while driving
48 per cent of drivers confess to having used a handheld mobile to make a phone call at least once in the past year – 36% do so once a week or more
53 per cent say that they will take their eyes off the road to look at who is calling from them
45 per cent admit they do so to see who has sent them a text message
24 per cent say drivers should be allowed to use handheld phones while at traffic lights or in non-moving traffic.
The admitted behaviour of such significant proportions of motorists contrasts sharply with respondents’ views about how people illegally using phones while driving should be dealt with.
Three quarters of them say that existing laws, which provide for a £60 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points, is not being adequately enforced, and 33 per cent say that the police should clamp down on those who break it.
Unsuccessfully challenging a fine in court can lead to heavier penalties of up to £1,000, and in the event of a collision, use of a handheld mobile can form the basis of charges such as dangerous driving.
Halfords added that police initiatives against the use of mobiles while driving are currently under way in areas including Scotland, Wales, Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall, and Humberside.
Dave Poulter, In-Car Technology Manager at Halfords, commented: “These findings paint a disturbing picture of what is happening on the UK’s roads and the emerging trend towards using mobile phones to link with social media while driving is extremely worrying.
“There are a number of ways of staying connected legally – from bespoke hands-free kits, that read out text messages for you, to car stereos that incorporate hands-free capabilities as well enabling maps and traffic services to be accessed from mobiles safely.”
He went on: “This dangerous behaviour is simply unnecessary and easily avoided through the smart use of hands-free technology. If any drivers are uncertain about how to comply with the law and the options available, our in-store specialists can offer professional advice as well as fitting.”
In January last year, insurer Swiftcover said that responses to a Freedom of Information request from 41 of the 43 police forces in England showed that the number of motorists fined for using a mobile while driving had jumped by a third to 171,000 over the previous use – still a tiny proportion, given the levels of self-reported use.
At the time, then Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said: “To make sure drivers take this seriously we are increasing the fine for the offence from £60 to between £80 and £100 next year.”
So far, no change has been made to the law.
While Halfords’ research is based on an online survey, insurer LV= last year carried out an observational study in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester to gauge mobile phone use in a live situation.
Researchers were placed close to pedestrian crossings and junctions, undertaking their observations during six-hour shifts on separate weekdays.
LV= said that drivers using handheld mobiles engaged in ”reckless driving, speeding, and sudden braking,” one third of them did not stop at pedestrian crossings (just 10 per cent of those not using mobiles failed to do so) and that they were twice as likely to demonstrate erratic driving behaviour.
When the LV= survey findings were published in December, Managing Director for Car Insurance John O’Roarke said: "It's been nearly ten years since legislation banning the use of hand-held phones when driving was introduced, so it's worrying to see that many motorists are continuing to use their devices when on the road.
“While it can seem tempting for people to use their phones at the wheel whilst driving they should always pull over to make a call, send a text, or browse the internet.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc 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.