Almost half of Britain's motorists are still regularly breaking the law by texting and driving, despite increasing their risk of crash by 400%.
An online survey revealed that 45% of UK drivers send and receive messages on their mobile while they are driving.
Encouragingly, the survey, which was conducted by the RAC Foundation, also found that 11% of motorists turn off their phones or switch them to mute – the preferred duty of care policy that fleet managers are writing into driver contracts.
The survey marks the first anniversary of the increase in penalties for using a hand-held phone at the wheel.
Since this time last year, motorists risk a £60 fine and three penalty points for using their mobile phone – including texting and receiving or making calls – whilst driving.
The police have repeatedly warned that drivers caught using their mobiles will receive a fine and penalty points and, if they have a crash, they may be prosecuted under careless and dangerous driving laws, which attract harsher penalties including imprisonment.
Chief constable Steve Green, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ head of road policing, said recently that police advice now goes one step further by recommending that drivers should not use hand-free phones, even though it is still legal to do so.
“Anything that causes a distraction to the driver of a vehicle is bound to lead to an increased risk of involvement in a collision,” he said.
“The research certainly shows that using a hands-free mobile phone is no different to any other distraction, slowing reaction times and raising the risk to the driver, their passengers and other road users.”
Mr Green said fleet managers should introduce a blanket ban on using hands-free phones for all employees who drive for work.
Despite such advice, the survey found that there is still a substantial number of drivers willing to ignore the risks.
This is especially true of younger drivers aged under 25, who were found to be more likely to text and drive.
The survey also found that the level of texting and driving differs throughout the UK, with the highest incidences in London (53%), and Manchester (50%) and lowest in Aberdeen (31%), Edinburgh (36%), Bristol (36%) and Glasgow (38%).
The survey has identified five distinct groups of texting drivers:
- those that read and send texts in free flowing traffic, which accounts for 21% of law-breaking drivers;
- drivers who read and/or send text messages when they are stuck in a jam – which is still illegal but still practised regularly by 19% of offenders;
- those who leave their phone audible and risk being distracted by text alerts (44%);
- those who admit to reading their texts in moving traffic, but would not consider responding or sending messages whilst driving (5%);
- and the 11% of drivers who responsibly switch off their phones or put them on mute to avoid distractions.
"Many young people may not be aware that it is illegal to text and drive and how it places them and other road users in potential danger,” Elizabeth Dainton, research development manager for the RAC Foundation, said.
“Urgent action is needed to address this increasing problem, especially as the 'Y' generation, who have grown up with technology and computers, begin to take to the road.”