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Millions still flouting mobile phone driving law

Using a mobile phone while driving

​Nine million people are refusing to quit using their mobile phones while driving, claims new RAC research.

A hard-core of motorists still admit to flouting the law by habitually using their handheld phones while driving despite the fact that penalties for the offence doubled on March 1, 2017.

In September 2016 the RAC revealed that the illegal use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel to ‘snap, chat, text and tweet’ had reached epidemic proportions. Days later the Government announced the penalty for the offence would increase to six points and a £200 fine in a bid to stamp out the dangerous habit.

A year on, however, and a survey of 1,727 motorists for the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2017 shows the move has not stopped a persistent 9.2m drivers breaking the law on a regular basis.

Total Age 17-24 Age 25-44 Age 45-64 Age 65+ Men Women
Hard core habitual users 15% (5.3m) 21% 17% 15% 6% 17% 13%
Occasional users – trying to quit 11% (3.9m) 20% 20% 5% 1% 12% 11%
Reformed users – stopped in last 12 months 16% (5.7m) 21% 23% 14% 7% 15% 18%
Non-users – never used a handheld phone at the wheel 58% (20.6m) 38% 40% 66% 86% 56% 59%

While the number of motorists who say they make or receive calls illegally at the wheel has fallen by a quarter (31% in 2016 v 23% in 2017), of those questioned about the impact of the tougher penalties 15% – or 5.3m drivers – said this had not made them stop.

Of the 89% of drivers who said they were aware of the tougher penalties for mobile phone use, the Report identified six in 10 (58%) – or the equivalent of 20.6m drivers – who said they had never used their handheld mobile phone when driving. Sixteen per cent – or 5.7m drivers – said they had completely stopped using their handheld phone altogether when driving since the law change.

A further 11% – 3.9m drivers – said they had curbed their illegal behaviour ‘a little’ but these occasional ‘illegal handheld phone use’ drivers have not broken their habit for good. It should be pointed out that this does not include the 11% – 4.4m of all UK drivers – who stated they were not aware of the law change so the figures for illegal phone use could in fact be higher.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “”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.”

The RAC research also indicates that many motorists think that it is safe to interact with a handheld phone when stopped in traffic. Four in 10 (40% or 15.9m) motorists owned up to talking on their phone when stationary in traffic compared to 48% in 2016 – a 16.6% fall.

Four in 10 (39%) – or 15.6m drivers – also admitted to checking texts, emails and social media while stationary in traffic and a shocking third (29%, or 11.6m drivers), say they have written texts, emails or social posts when stationary in traffic.

In addition, 16% (the equivalent of 6.4m drivers) say they have taken photos or video when stationary in traffic which is down a quarter (27.3%) on a year ago when 22% admitted to this highly irresponsible activity.

Pete Williams continued: “More has to be done to educate drivers that any use of a handheld phone at the wheel is both illegal and presents both a mental and a physical distraction that could ultimately cause a crash and the loss of life.

“The Government, and indeed all those who campaign on road safety, need to impress on drivers the dangers of being distracted at the wheel and the consequences of using a handheld mobile phone while driving.”

The illegal use of handheld phones by drivers was named as the number-one concern for motorists, with 16% citing it as their top worry from a list of 23 common concerns. This was up from 13% in 2016 and from 9% in 2015.

“The numbers of drivers still using their handheld phones at the wheel remains at epidemic levels and is a serious problem for society. The Government, police and road safety organisations still have a huge job to do to end the handheld mobile phone menace,” added the RAC’s Pete Williams.

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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