RAC reveals nine million drivers refuse to put their phone down
Despite penalties for the offence being doubled earlier this year, new research from the RAC has revealed a large number of motorists still use their mobile phones while driving
Drivers caught using their mobile phones while driving now face six points, a £200 fine and have no option of an awareness course.
Six months on from this law being introduced, research carried out with 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.
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. This is split between 8% (2.8m) who said they had not changed their habit at all and 7% (2.5m) said it had not really made a difference.
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 phone users 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: “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.”
UK’s #1 motoring concern
The illegal use of mobile phones by drivers was named as the number-one concern for motorists surveyed for this year’s RAC Report on Motoring, 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.
In comparison, 10% ranked the condition of local roads, 9% ranked the cost of fuel and 8% the cost of insuring a car as their number-one concern.
Mobile phone use by age and gender
Among the hard core of drivers who are habitual mobile phone law breakers (15%) there appears to be a significant split between the ages with four in 10 (39.6%) aged 25 to 44, a third (33%) aged 45 to 64 and almost one in five (18.5%) aged 17 to 24. Men make up the larger proportion of the hard core with 57.3% compared to women with 42.7%.
One in five occasional phone users (21.8%) were aged 17 to 24, six in 10 (59.7%) aged 25 to 44 and 16% aged 45 to 64. There was a more even split between men (51.7%) and women (48.8%).
Awareness of tougher penalties
There are signs that the government’s tougher stance on mobile phone use while driving has had some impact, with nine in 10 drivers (89%) aware of the new penalties.
Just one in 10 (11%) said they didn’t know that the fine and points that you receive if caught using your handheld phone when driving had increased. However, just a quarter (27%) knew the detail that the fine has doubled to £200 and the points have gone up to six.
Similarly only one in four drivers (28%) were aware that the government has recommended that those caught should not be offered a ‘driver offender retraining’ course but should automatically receive the full penalty.
Further fall in roads policing numbers
A factor that may be influencing persistent driving illegal behaviours is the reduction in the number of dedicated roads policing officers. In England and Wales the number has declined by 30% in 10 years from 3,766 in 2007 to just 2,643 in 2017*.
The Report has revealed that a concerning proportion of motorists do not expect to be caught if they break motoring laws – although the 24% who agree with this sentiment is a drop on the 27% recorded last year. Meanwhile, a majority of drivers (62%) still feel there are not enough roads policing officers to enforce traffic laws effectively.
Commenting on today's figures, Jason Wakeford, Director of Campaigns for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “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, but a split second distraction caused by a call, text or notification behind the wheel can be deadly.
“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."