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Under-reporting of mobile phone use in collisions is ‘massive problem’, finds study

Police officers have expressed concerns over suitable powers and resources to properly investigate whether a mobile phone was being used by a driver at the time of a crash.

Driver using mobile phone

RAC research this autumn found 31% of respondents admitted to having used a handheld mobile phone while driving – compared with just 8% in 2014

A study by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) found that British officers participating in the online poll were unable to report the full proportion of road accidents in their force area linked with mobile phone use each year.

Dr Paul Pilkington, a senior lecturer in public health at UWE Bristol, worked with the National Roads Policing Intelligence Forum to survey 134 road traffic collision investigation officers as part of his study into the reporting and recording of mobile phone involvement in accidents.

Dr Pilkington was told that phones were only routinely seized and analysed in fatal and life-changing injury crashes.

And four out of five collision investigators surveyed indicated mobile phone involvement in non-fatal accidents was under-reported, with half agreeing the role of phones was even overlooked in fatal crashes.

Dr Pilkington said the findings of the survey raised serious questions about investigation tactics.

He continued: “If the police can’t detect the full extent of this behaviour then we are missing an important part of collision investigation.

“It leaves a significant gap not only in terms of enforcement, but also monitoring of the role of phones in crashes. The result is significant under-reporting of the role of mobile phones in road traffic crashes, as well as inadequate justice for the victims of those affected by the actions of drivers using their phones behind the wheel.”

The Department for Transport is planning to double penalty points and fines for mobile use behind the wheel next year.

Dr Pilkington said: “People are using their phones because they don’t think they will be caught. The penalty points have gone up, and the fine, but unless it’s a sky-high fine or a ban, drivers will continue to chance it.

“When you see adverts for cars with built-in dashboard consoles for checking email and Facebook, it is at odds with reducing distraction driving. But those things are what appeal to people, in terms of staying connected to one another.

“Unless technology has a solution, advances in phone technology are likely to make problems worse.”

Dr Pilkington has co-authored a literature review called ‘Mobile phone use while driving: Underestimation of a global threat’ published earlier this year in the Journal of Transport and Health. It can be accessed here.

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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.