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Illegal handheld mobile phone use by drivers on the increase, says RAC

That’s the finding of RAC research that indicates a total of 95% of motorists regularly see other drivers looking at their phones in stationary.

The survey of more than 2,000 drivers also found that 64% of motorists said that in the last hour they spent driving they saw at least one driver committing the offence. Of those, 6% claimed they saw between five and seven drivers breaking the law, whereas 36% witnessed one or two. Only 26% of motorists surveyed said they did not see anyone doing this.

A total of 16% of motorists questioned said on every journey they make they see others looking down as if they are interacting with their phones while stopped at traffic lights. The remaining 84% (of the 95%) who said they see this, do so less frequently.

But, even by their own admission, three in 10 motorists say they have used a handheld phone at the wheel; 29% claim they do it occasionally whilst the other 1% say they use their handheld phones on most journeys.

The main reason cited by 61% of respondents for occasional phone use at the wheel was to make a short call. Half (49%) of those admitting to using a handheld phone when driving said they had checked email or text messages, and a similar percentage (47%) had sent a text message.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “As a society we need to change drivers’ thinking to make them understand the serious consequences their decision to use their handheld phones can have. Using a handheld phone should be regarded as being as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.

“There seems to be an unfortunate perception that a quick look at a phone at the traffic lights is okay. However, it is a significant distraction which at best may hold up other road users when a driver doesn’t notice that the lights have changed, and at worst may increase the risk of a collision with a pedestrian, cyclist or another vehicle.

“The Government is looking at increasing the penalties for using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel, and whilst this is welcome, there has to be a similar effort put in to enforcing these laws. Worryingly, the most recent data indicates that the number of fixed penalty notices issued has declined. And, with illegal phone use at epidemic levels now is the time for the Government to find the money for a high impact public awareness advertising campaign.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.