Millions of us are paying attention to the wrong thing

 Published 4th September 2019
Driver Guides 

Anyone remember when it became illegal to use a mobile phone behind the wheel? It's quite some time ago. It was December 2003, as near as makes no difference to 16 years ago. It's been illegal to chat on the phone or mess about with texts for long enough now that children born the year the law was enacted will be learning to drive themselves in the next few months.

That should be long enough for the message to sink in. If it had taken that long for the drink driving message to hit home thousands more lives would possibly have been lost on the roads. We all know there are people that still do it but the rate is far lower now than it was before the law was introduced. It's socially unacceptable to drink and drive so the vast majority don't do it.

Yet in the last two years 2.7 million drivers have been involved in a collision or veered off the road because they were messing about with their phone instead of concentrating on the job of safely steering a tonne or more of metal. 2.7 MILLION people? That's almost 10% of drivers in the UK veering off the road because they couldn't resist the lure of a blue screen.

A new study commissioned by Kwik Fit has revealed some astonishing numbers. Of the 2.7 million people veering off the road, more than a million of them have actually caused a collision whilst distracted by their phone. 1.8 million people reported being involved in a collision because the other driver was using the phone. Millions of accidents are happening every year because we appear to be unable to concentrate on something other than our phones. We hear about the big crashes and the people handed jail sentences, but how many millions of minor bumps happen that we just shrug off. More to the point, with millions of claims flying around it's no wonder your car insurance goes up year on year. You're paying for the people who think sending a quick text will be ok.

The study reveals that:

  • a quarter of motorists (24%) admit to reading texts;
  • one in five of us confessed to sending texts while driving;
  • 40% of us use our phone's SatNav;
  • 44% of us take a call; and
  • 41% make calls using the speaker, but we forget that as far as the interpretation of the law is concerned, touching your phone is an offence even if the call is on speaker or you're just checking directions.

Men are 45% more likely than women to have read a text while driving.m Men account for 1.7 million of the reported incidents while a mere 970,000 women were distracted enough to leave the road. 18% of 18-34 year old drivers admitted leaving the road at some point, and drivers in that age bracket are six times more likely to have read a text, and 13 times more likely to send one, than drivers over the age of 55. Whether that proves them to be a more sensible age group, or demonstrates that the Nokia 3210 isn't as interesting as an iPhone, is besides the point. The over 55s certainly aren't immune from the same distractions.

How do we stop people using their mobile phone while driving?

So the question must be, what do we have to do to get the message across? When 2.7 million people have either been involved in a collision or near miss in such a relatively short time there's clearly a long way to go. When the law was introduced in 2003 the penalty was £30. Now it's a fixed penalty notice of £200 and six points on your licence. Even allowing for inflation that's a hefty increase but apparently even that is not enough of a deterrent for millions of people.

To suggest removing offenders thumbs to prevent them texting is probably a bit too medieval. Likewise lining our major roads with a series of stocks and locking them in for a few hours is probably out of the question too - although the government could raise some handy revenue selling rotten tomatoes to passing motorists. A little bit of target practice would certainly brighten up the morning commute.

As unlikely as these suggestions obviously are, the very least we can do if we see someone we know using a phone behind the wheel is ask them why? Ask them to keep their phone in their bag or glovebox to remove temptation. Ask them to exercise a little bit of restraint and concentrate on the task of driving. Ask them to pull over safely if they can't. If that doesn't work ask them when they are going to pay the bill you'll be sending for your ever-increasing insurance premiums.

Want to know more?

Why not read our feature What you need to know about driving with a mobile .

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