We all witness poor driving every time we use the roads, whether we’re also driving, are on foot, or on our bikes. My kitchen window overlooks a bit of a rat-run and I lose track of the number of drivers passing by clutching mobile phones—particularly delivery drivers—and if new data is anything to go by, I’m not alone in what I see.

In 2017, after a spike in deaths caused by motorists driving while using mobile phones, the government introduced strict new laws regarding mobile phone use behind the wheel. Yet despite the harsher penalties, the RAC’s recent Annual Report on Motoring shows mobile phone offences remain the top concern of motorists.

Driven to distraction

Campaigners for road safety and MPs say record levels of road congestion and a lack of traffic police is the reason around 10million drivers continue to reach for their mobiles—to relieve the boredom of sitting in traffic.

According to the motoring organisation’s annual report, 23% of motorists confessed to still making or receiving calls on a hand-held phone while driving. The figure shot up to 51% of drivers between 17 and 24 years of age. Thirty-five per cent of the same under 25-year-olds age group said they checked email, social media, and text messages while driving. That percentage alone is terrifying, but even more so when you learn that this selfish and unnecessary move can up the chances of an accident by up to 24 times. In drivers over 25 years old, the figure was a lower, yet still worrying, 17%.

Government advice is that we should keep our mobile phones in our car’s glove compartment, but the RAC’s survey of 1,753 motorists discovered that only 15% are heeding this warning—25% say they keep their phones on the seat or the dashboard, instead, and 24% admitted to leaving their mobiles on audible, increasing the chance of distraction.

To compound matters, the number of Traffic Officers in England and Wales dropped from 3,766 in 2007 to 2,643 in 2017—that’s almost 30% over just a decade. In contrast, data from the Department for Transport reports that traffic congestion in Britain increased by 6.5% in the past ten years.

Not much cop

Lilian Greenwood MP, Chair of the Transport Committee, said:

‘In 2017, there were 773 casualties—including 43 fatalities and 135 serious injuries—in road traffic collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor.

‘Every one of these casualties could have been avoided if drivers had been paying attention to driving and not their phone.’

Tim Rogers, the lead on roads policing for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said:

‘Often they’re doing it in traffic, but inattention at any speed is lethal. These people will say they rarely see police on the roads, that they’ve never been stopped by police, so they perceive no risk in doing it.’

‘There’s also a problem with chief constables who cut dedicated traffic officers then claim “all our officers are traffic cops”.

‘Why do we accept it is OK for six people a day to die on our roads? It’s certainly not acceptable. We need more traffic police to reduce the number of causalities [sic] on our roads.’

The RAC says that the first thing the police need to do is catch mobile phone offenders in the act, but they also want both the government and the police should look into cars having the technology that can enforce the law against using hand-held devices while operating vehicles.

Look, Ma, no hands!

To stay within the law while driving or riding a motorcycle you must have hands-free access to your mobile (although MPs are proposing a ban on all hands-free devices in cars) or sat-nav and use a Bluetooth headset, voice command, a dashboard holder or mat, a windscreen mount, or a built-in sat-nav and the same applies whether you’re stopped at traffic lights, sitting in traffic, or are supervising a learner driver.

Unless circumstances dictate otherwise (like your job), the best bet is to keep your phone in your glove compartment, on silent. It’ll be near enough to you in an emergency. Research also shows you’re a better driver when driving in silence but if that bores you to the point of phone temptation, maybe consider the radio or an audiobook—or perhaps listen to Led Zeppelin?

Any device you use mustn’t block your view of the road ahead and you must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times. If the police stop you because they think you’re distracted or not in control, you could face prosecution.

While police numbers are down, in 12 months of ‘Operation Tramline’ alone, officers across the country in three so-called ‘supercabs’ caught and recorded motorists committing 1,062 offences of using hand-held devices while driving.

And, yes, modern life is busy but nothing on our phones is worth incurring penalty points, a fine, a prison sentence, or losing your licence. Even less so if it means risking your life.

Do you agree with the RAC’s findings? Have you noticed fewer police cars on the roads? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section.

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