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RAC reports ‘frightening’ levels of ignorance over mobile phone law

So says the RAC as its research suggests that 12% of drivers don't know that texting and driving is illegal and 21% don't realise it is illegal to check Facebook and Twitter while driving.

And 61% of motorists still have not got the message that texting at the wheel of a stationary car with the engine on is against the law despite the fact it has been illegal since 2003 for drivers to use a hand-held mobile phone.

The organisation's research also shows that more than half of motorists (53%) report regularly seeing other people texting in stationary traffic during half or some of their journeys, while 29% claim to see this during most journeys.

In terms of talking on a hand-held phone while driving, three-quarters (75%) of motorists report regularly observing other people doing this, with 44% saying they see this happening during most of their car journeys.

There is, however, a big difference in what motorists see being done by others and what they are prepared to admit to doing themselves with just 8% admitting to using a hand-held phone whilst driving.

Motorists with less than 10 years’ experience are more likely to admit to talking on a hand-held mobile phone illegally (16%) compared to just 4% of those who have been driving over 25 years.

And, when it comes to drivers owning up to texting in stationary vehicles on the road, only 7% of motorists say they do, though this figure almost doubles to 15% for 17 to 24-year-olds.

According to the research only 53% of motorists strongly disagree that it is safe to use a mobile phone while sat in traffic lights or stuck in congestion, and over a quarter (26%) think it safe to text and look at social media sites when stationary with the engine running.

And more than half (51%) believe it is unlikely that they will be caught sending texts while their car is stationary. Meanwhile, four in 10 (42%) motorists also think it is unlikely they will be caught texting while driving, with 16% believing it is ‘extremely unlikely’ they will get caught.

RAC technical director David Bizley said: ‘British motorists regard themselves as law-abiding and out of 35.8 million driving licence holders in the UK, around three million (less than one in 10) drivers have points on their licence. However, more than one million drivers have been convicted of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving since 2003, when it was made explicitly illegal. This prompts the question as to whether motorists are deliberately flouting the law or whether they are just unaware of exactly what is, and what isn’t legal?

‘While the law is clear it seems that motorists regard using a mobile phone while stationary at traffic lights or when stationary in congestion as more socially acceptable and less dangerous than using their hand-held phones while on the move. They forget, for example, that when concentrating on their phone, a cyclist may pull up beside or just ahead of them and they may pull away, totally unaware of the cyclist’s presence.’

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 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. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.