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Drivers hate phone use at the wheel – but do it themselves

41% of motorists told the RAC that people using phones while driving is in their top 4 concerns - despite 49% admitting they'd done it themselves.

What's the deal?

In one of the worst cases of a bad behaviour getting more acceptable instead of the other way around, phone use while driving appears to have shot up.

When the RAC surveyed drivers in 2014, only 8% admitted to making calls at the wheel. This year, 36% - presumably with a slightly embarrassed, "Silly old me" smile - owned up to it.

Texting has seen a jump too - from 7% in 2014 to 19% in 2016.

Distracted driving

Why has phone use at the wheel grown so much?

Drink driving has declined steadily since road safety ads started circling, and it's now seen as very serious and something you wouldn't want anyone to know you'd done. Phone use, on the other hand, is something people do own up to - they know they shouldn't do it but, like, everyone does?

Some of the increase the RAC found is probably due to people being more honest about it - but that's the darn problem. Using your phone while driving is getting more and more acceptable! And the more acceptable it is, the more people will do it and the more people will own up to it and on and on.

But is it REALLY so bad?

The Transport Research Laboratory did a study, because that's what those guys do. They say drivers using their phones have reactions 30% slower than drivers who are over the legal alcohol limit.

That's pretty scary. The trouble is that, while most people have experienced how inequipped you are to do anything more than choose a kebab when you're drunk, if you haven't crashed a car because you were using your phone, you don't really have any concept of how distracted you are.

We know it's dangerous, but because it inconveniences us, we find it easy to think "Oh, just this once because I REALLY need to know if bae's replied."

Then, because that went OK, we do it again. And again. It becomes a habit.

Most days, you could be lucky. If everyone on the road is behaving themselves, maybe they can accommodate your inattention.


But all it takes is something a little out of the ordinary - as simple as a car pulling out of a driveway you've never even noticed before - for tragedy to strike.

What can we do?

Well, that's what I'm sat here wondering. Is it harsher punishments? Better education? Technology that shuts your phone down in the car?

A combination of all 3 is probably the perfect-world scenario, but the most important change is to our culture: people accepting that it IS dangerous and they ARE responsible for their own behaviour

The government is considering an increase in the number of penalty points for using a phone while driving.

More information about what's OK and what isn't is also needed. I can't pick up my phone but I can answer a call using handsfree. So - choosing music on my phone when it's in a cradle is fine? Using my phone as a satnav when it's in a cradle? #confuse

Until these grey areas are eliminated (and, frankly, both those examples are dangerous), people aren't going to take the law seriously because it's so easy to creep over the line.

What YOU can do

  • Put your phone in your bag, on the backseat - where you can't see it, hear it or reach it
  • If you're on your way somewhere, tell people you won't be contactable for the next however long
  • Long trip? Lots of details? You'll be needing rest stops, and that's where you can get your phone out to check directions and update people
  • Photos at the wheel are not a good look - imagine your mum, boss or a judge in a dangerous driving court case seeing you breaking the law with a smile on your face
  • Remember the penalty: a fine of £100 to £150 and 3 points just for using the phone - but a possible 2-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine if your driving is dangerous

How about a little revision of how a driving conviction would affect your life?

Honor Clement-Hayes

By Honor Clement-Hayes

Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. Her first car is a Peugeot 206 cabriolet, which is a very sensible choice for the British climate. Follow her on .