Texting at the wheel

70% of younger drivers would risk all for one roadside text

70% of younger drivers would risk all for one roadside text

70% of younger drivers would risk all for one roadside text

Driving instructors working for the AA will step up efforts this summer to convince young and other new drivers not to use mobile phones or text at the wheel – even when pulled over with the engine running.

This follows AA-Populus research showing that more than 70% of younger drivers think it is acceptable to read and send texts when the car is stopped, idling at the side of the road.

With increasing pressure for mobile phone fines to be increased sharply, the appeal to young drivers is not only to safeguard them and other road users. It is also a plea to them not to throw away their good driving records, their tuition and their money within months of passing their tests. Parents who have ‘invested’ in their children’s driving lessons also need to emphasise the importance of not texting behind the wheel.

Half way to losing their licence

Overall, 55% of respondents of a new AA-Populus Motoring Panel poll for the AA Driving School believe it is acceptable to send or read a text message in breach of the mobile telephone law. But it is drivers in their teens and twenties who are prepared to leave themselves vulnerable at the roadside and potentially present an obstacle to other vehicles – just to answer a text. The least severe punishment, three penalty points, puts them half way to losing their licence during the first two years of their driving career.

Reading/writing a text

When asked the circumstances under which the 28,265 drivers polled might feel it is acceptable to read or write and send a text:

  • Over half (55%) believe it is acceptable to do so when pulled over with the engine running.  This increased to 71% of 18-24 year olds and 73% of those aged 25-34. 
  • Almost a third (31%) believe it is acceptable to read or send a text when stationary in queuing traffic.  This rises to almost half (48%) of 18-24 year olds and 38% of respondents in London.  While younger drivers were most likely to consider it acceptable, a quarter of over 65s also felt that they could read or send a text while stationary in queuing traffic.
  • One in 10 believe it is acceptable to read or send a text message when stopped a red traffic light - rising to almost a quarter (23%) of 25-34 year olds and 16% of respondents in London.
  • One in twenty believed it is acceptable to read or send a text message when in slow moving traffic.  Rising to 17% of 18-24 year olds.

Reading a text

When asked when it was acceptable to just read a text or instant message:

  • 50% of females believe it is acceptable to read a text message when pulled over with the engine running.  Rising to 63% of 25-34 year olds. 
  • 31% of females would read a message if stationary in queuing traffic. This jumps to 41% of both 18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds, while one in five over 65s would read a message in a queue of traffic.

Writing a text

Respondents were also asked about composing and sending messages:

  • 40% believe it is acceptable to send a text message when stationary with the engine running.  Rising to 63% of 25-34 year olds. 
  • Almost a quarter of 18-24 year olds think it is acceptable to send a text when stationary in queuing traffic.

Whilst it is understandable young drivers like to be ‘connected’, it is especially disappointing that they are the group most likely to put themselves and others at risk through being addicted to these devices

Mark Peacock, Head of the AA Driving School

Needless offence

Mark Peacock, Head of the AA Driving School said, “New drivers should not undermine the time and effort they have put into learning to drive by committing a needless offence which carries three penalty points, especially when they are allowed only 6 points before a ban.

Parked with the engine off

“The only time it is acceptable to read or send a text message on a mobile device is when you are parked safely with the engine switched off.  No message is important enough to risk your own or other road users’ lives - a momentary distraction, created by reading or sending a message, could easily result in a crash.

“It is not clear whether drivers are unaware of what the law says or whether they are simply ignoring it.  Either way, they must understand the very real dangers of using a mobile phone, both for calls or messaging, when at the wheel of a car.  Whilst it is understandable young drivers like to be ‘connected’, it is especially disappointing that they are the group most likely to put themselves and others at risk through being addicted to these devices.”

Insurance implications

A mobile phone offence (CU80) is taken extremely seriously by insurance companies with, on average, a 26% increase in premium or even withdrawal of cover from offenders.  That compares with an average 12% premium increase for an SP30 speeding offence.


(24 July 2015)

* Populus received 28,265 responses from AA members to its online poll between 18th and 28th May 2015. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.