New research from the AA suggests that many drivers – especially young drivers – regard it as acceptable to read or compose text messages while in charge of a car.
While most drivers agree that it's acceptable to 'read and compose text or instant messages while their car is parked with the engine off' (85%), which is legal, nearly half (46%) also believe it's acceptable to do so if the car is 'pulled over with the engine running' – which is not.
More concerning is that 28% of all drivers (41% of those aged between 18 and 34) say that texting or messaging is acceptable if stuck in a traffic queue.
Similarly, while 11% overall say they would use a hand-held device while waiting at traffic lights, younger drivers are most likely to do so (19% aged 18–24; 23% aged 25–35; 19% aged 34–44), according to an AA-Populus study which polled over 28,000 drivers.*
And 16% of those aged 18–24 say that it's acceptable to send or receive messages while driving in slow moving traffic (5% overall).
Young drivers, who according to the research are most likely to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, must retake their driving test if they gain six penalty points or more within two years of being granted their full driving licence.
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.
An offence using a hand-held phone is committed by a driver unless the car is safely parked with the engine switched off.
It attracts a fixed penalty of £100 and three endorsement points, the same as a speeding offence.
But depending on the circumstances, the offence could be escalated to careless or even dangerous driving. That risks disqualification and a heavy fine, as well as making it difficult to afterwards to find an insurer willing to offer cover.
Janet Connor, managing director of AA Insurance, points out that drivers using a handheld mobile phone are at four times greater risk of having a crash, despite the penalty being identical.**
"These findings are shocking. Unlike speeding it usually requires the use of a phone to be seen by a police officer, so many drivers just think they can get away with it. It's vital that there are more traffic police to catch offenders.
"This deliberate act diverts attention from driving, significantly heightening the risk of a crash. If that happens, police officers will check the phone's records to see whether a message or call was taking place at the time.
"While drivers may mistakenly exceed a speed limit, no-one sends a text by mistake."
Ms Connor adds: "Those who flout the law are more likely to make a claim, and their insurance premium rightly reflects that risk."
* AA-Populus interviewed 28,265 AA members in an online poll, 18–28 May 2015. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
** RoSPA, Driving for Work report, June 2011, supported by AA actuarial evidence.
24 July 2015