Since December 2003, it has been illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving or riding a motorbike and those caught breaching the law can be issued with a fixed penalty notice resulting in three points on their driving licence and a £100 fine.
In 2014, 1.4% of car drivers were seen using a handheld mobile in England and Scotland; most of these were using it in their hand, rather than holding it to their ear. For goods vehicles and lorry drivers, the figure was 1.2%, while bus, coach and minibus drivers had the lowest rate of illegal use, with 0.4% observed using a handheld mobile phone. Van drivers were the most likely to breach requirements at 2.7%.
The roadside observation data was collected across 90 sites with a mixture of stationary and free flowing traffic. The findings should help develop transport and safety policy by improving understanding of who is using mobile phones while driving and for what purpose.
All drivers were more likely to be observed using a handheld mobile phone when stationary (2.3%) than in moving traffic (1.6%). The higher rate at stationary sites may be due to drivers believing it is safer to use a handheld mobile phone in stationary traffic or wrongly thinking it is legal to do this.
A higher proportion of 17 to 29 year old drivers were seen using hand-held mobiles (5.2%) than 30 to 59 year old drivers (2.4%) and drivers aged 60 and over (0.7%). But these results should be treated with caution because observers would have found it difficult to determine the age of individuals accurately.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute for Advanced Motorists, described the results as “very disappointing but not at all surprising”. He said campaigns run by THINK! and the DfT should be “revived and invigorated” with stronger messages for new drivers and van users.
“Tackling mobile phone usage must be a government priority for 2015,” he said. “People must have the fear of being caught increased as we believe this is the only viable deterrent, but that needs an increase in visible policing.”
Greig added that the figures for van users showed that fleets and companies must have clear and consistent mobile phone policies that are enforced. “If using a phone while driving is against company policy then disciplinary action must follow.”