Nearly one-in-five young people admit to video calling while driving

Nearly one in five young drivers admit to video calling while behind the wheel, according to the RAC Report on Motoring 2020 published today (October 7).

Oct 7, 2020
By Tony Thompson

The research found that the increasing popularity of FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Snapchat for video calls was posing “a new and present danger on the UK’s roads”, with 18 per cent of drivers aged 17 to 24 admitting to taking part in video calls during a journey.

Among those aged 25 to 44, 13 per cent admitted taking video calls behind the wheel. Across all age ranges the average was eight per cent.

The survey also found that just under one-in-ten drivers aged 17 to 24 (nine per cent) say they play games on their phones while driving, making them three times more likely to do this compared with the average UK driver.

Other drivers’ use of handheld phones was the second biggest overall motoring-related concern identified in the RAC report, which warned “the problem of illegal phone use at the wheel has far from disappeared”.

After the state of local roads – a third of all UK drivers surveyed (32 per cent) say the issue concerns them and 79 per cent now want to see camera technology introduced to catch drivers acting illegally.

The number of drivers of all ages who admitted to making and receiving calls on handheld phones while driving has increased by five per cent in the past year to 29 per cent – the highest figure since 2016.

The proportion of drivers admitting to other dangerous activities such as checking or sending text messages or taking photos or video appears to be reducing – although it is unclear whether this is simply down to lower overall car use this year as a result of the pandemic.

Eight per cent of all drivers say they text or send other messages while driving, down from 14 per cent last year and from a high of 20 per cent in 2016. But young drivers are again much more likely to break the law – 15 per cent of those aged 17 to 24 admitted to this in 2020, although this is down substantially on 2019 (37 per cent).

More than one-in-ten motorists (14 per cent) this year say they check texts or other app notifications while driving, down from 17 per cent in 2019. Among younger drivers, the proportion is 22 per cent, down from 35 per cent last year.

The ongoing problem of drivers illegally using handheld mobile devices is an issue the RAC has studied closely since the 2016 Report on Motoring highlighted it was at ‘epidemic levels’ – a finding that sparked tougher penalties being introduced just a few months later. But four years on, the data suggests a renewed focus is needed to bring about a lasting change in behaviour among motorists, particularly younger drivers.

Given the enormous police resources required to ‘catch drivers in the act’, motorists seem particularly keen on enforcement taking place using cameras, something that has been pioneered in Australia.

Of the 79 per cent who support the introduction of camera technology to identify illegal mobile phone users in the UK, the vast majority (52 per cent) are strongly in favour of this happening.

RAC road safety spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Our figures highlight what many drivers already know – that the problem of illegal phone use at the wheel has far from disappeared.

“While there’s been a reduction in some elements of this dangerous activity, more people say they are making and taking calls now than at any point since 2016, shortly before tougher penalties were introduced.

“And the rise in the popularity of video calls means this type of communication represents a new, clear and present danger on the UK’s roads in 2020.”

Mr Williams added: “Our findings from 2016 were a watershed moment, which led to the UK Government calling for people to make illegal mobile phone use while driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

“The fact drivers still state it’s their second biggest motoring concern of all shows that more progress still needs to be made here. It’s also the case that the bar to convict somebody under the current offence of using a handheld mobile phone while driving is high, making it difficult for the police to enforce.

“Any mobile phone activity that doesn’t involve telecommunications, such as checking text messages, recording a video or changing pre-downloaded music, is also, bizarrely, not covered by the set mobile phone law, although drivers could be convicted for not being in proper control of their vehicles.

“So, it’s significant that motorists are united in their desire to see camera-based technology, like that already in use in other countries, introduced on our roads to catch drivers who risk everyone’s safety by breaking the law in this way.

“If the behaviour of those who continue to think it’s safe to use a handheld phone while driving upwards of a tonne of metal is ever going to change, they need to believe there’s a reasonable chance of being caught.”

Inspector Frazer Davey of Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s Roads Policing unit said: “The importance of concentrating on your driving cannot be overstated. Using a mobile phone while in charge of a car puts you and everyone else at risk. The consequences of allowing yourself to be distracted while you are driving can be catastrophic. It’s simply not worth it.”

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