The number of drivers illegally using their phone at the wheel has fallen by a quarter since last year but new research suggests that as many as nine million are still regularly breaking the law.
The RAC’s Report on Motoring 2017 reveals that while the proportion of drivers who admit to using a handheld phone has fallen from 31 per cent to 23 per cent, the introduction of tougher punishments haven’t been discouraged a hard core of users from the practice.
Fifteen per cent of those questioned by the motoring body said that this year’s increased penalties had no effect on their decision to break the law and a further 11 per cent said they had cut their use “a little” but had not broken the habit.
With nearly 40 million registered drivers in the UK, that represents a potential 9.2m people still regularly using their phone while driving.
An increasing number of those who said they used their phone at the wheel said that they did so because they could “get away with it” – up from seven per cent last year to 10 per cent in 2017. And the RAC has warned that falling road policing numbers could even see more drivers taking this attitude.
“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”
Pete Williams, RAC
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “Twelve months ago our research revealed that the illegal use of handheld mobile phones by drivers was at epidemic proportions – a year on and the situation still remains dire.
“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 per cent since 2007 [in England and Wales]. 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.”
In March this year the penalty for using a handheld phone while driving doubled to six points and a £200 fine. The vast majority of drivers (89 per cent) said they were aware of the tougher penalties but far fewer said they had had an impact on their behaviour. 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 per cent – 3.9m drivers – said they had curbed their illegal behaviour “a little” but had not broken their habit for good.
And while overall phone use was down, far more drivers said they still used their phone while stationary, with around 40 per cent making calls or checking texts, emails and social media while stopped in traffic.
The RAC report also found that illegal phone use was the number one concern among drivers, with 16 per cent citing it as their biggest worry from a list of 23 options. That’s up from 13 per cent last year.
Pete Williams added: “We had hoped concern about drivers talking or texting at the wheel on their handheld phone would decline as a result of the decision to increase penalties with fewer drivers breaking the law but this has not been the case. What may well have happened is that awareness of the offence has risen among law-abiding drivers who have become increasingly incensed by the number of drivers they still see flouting the rules… and putting other road users at serious risk of injury or even death.
“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.”
Commenting on the latest figures, Jason Wakefield, director of campaigns for road safety charity Brake, said: “As a society, we have become addicted to our mobiles, but a split second distraction caused by a call, text or notification behind the wheel can be deadly. 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.”