Illegal phone use ‘rockets’ as harsh penalties fail to have long-lasting effect on drivers

Illegal phone use ‘rockets’ as harsh penalties fail to have long-lasting effect on drivers
Illegal phone use ‘rockets’ as harsh penalties fail to have long-lasting effect on drivers

One of Britain’s leading motoring organisations has warned that tough penalties for drivers using handheld phones have failed to have the desired effect.

The RAC has warned that drivers are “returning to their old ways” after its latest Report on Motoring found a rise in phone use among drivers.

After a fall in the number of drivers admitting to using a handheld phone in 2017 following the introduction of tougher penalties, the new figures show the problem is actually worsening, particularly among young drivers.

Overall, 25 per cent of all drivers – equivalent to 10 million road users – admitted to illegally making or receiving calls – a rise of one per cent. But among those aged 25-34 that figure was almost half (47 per cent) – up seven per cent on last year.

Fading impact

In 2017 the punishment for using a handheld phone doubled to a £200 fine and six penalty points.

But the RAC believes that the penalties are having a “fading impact”.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “While the introduction of tougher penalties for handheld phone use at the wheel was absolutely the right thing to do, we fear any benefits have run their course with this data showing illegal use is now rocketing among some groups of drivers.

“Following the introduction of stronger penalties in 2017, we saw a promising shift with some drivers changing their behaviour for the better and becoming compliant with the law – indeed recent observational data suggested this was the case.

“Sadly, that didn’t signal the start of a longer-term trend with drivers now seemingly returning to their old ways and putting themselves and millions of other road users at risk.”

Slipping attitudes

Drivers in the 25-34 age group were also the most likely to send and read messages or take photos or videos while driving. Thirty-six per cent said they send messages or social media posts while driving and a third admitted to taking photos.

Both figures represent a 10 per cent rise on 2017 and texting rates are back to the same level they were before the law changed.

The number of drivers texting or using social media has also begun to creep back up. (Picture: Shutterstock)
The number of drivers texting or using social media has also begun to creep back up. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The survey also found that more than half of all drivers in London (52 per cent) admitted making handheld calls – twice the national average.

Forty-three people died and 135 were seriously injured in crashes where the driver using a phone was a contributory factor, according to government figures for 2017.

New forms of detection

Pete Williams added: “We need much more data about the extent of the problem which it appears is really no less commonplace now than it was in 2016.

“But the fact remains the change in penalties for illegal phone use while driving has, on its own, not shifted behaviour as much as we would have liked.

“We also know the offence of using a handheld phone is difficult for police officers to enforce, and with police resources as tight as ever the unfortunate reality is likely to be many instances where drivers are getting away with this dangerous act. This is why we believe new forms of detection and enforcement technology could have a valuable role to play here.”

Inspector Frazer Davey for Avon and Somerset Police said: “The results of the survey are concerning. We know that driver distraction is a cause of collisions. As a road policing inspector I see the impact of driver distraction and people are losing their lives as a result of the use of mobile devices by drivers.

“The law is clear on the use of mobile devices in vehicles and police officers across the country will continue to prosecute drivers who choose to drive while distracted on their phones.”

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