One in five of UK motorists admitted to accessing social networking sites on their mobile phone while driving, according to UK press reporting in 2011. Just 12 months later, RAC studies revealed that nearly a quarter of motorists also texted or emailed while either driving or stationery at lights.
Despite being illegal to use a hand held mobile phone while driving since December 2003, the flouting of the law continues to be an issue, with more than a million drivers convicted and contributing to rising numbers of related accident claims.
While it has become an all too familiar sight to see pedestrians and public transport commuters eyes down on their phones, we also constantly spot car and van drivers using mobiles when negotiating roundabouts or when making other manoeuvres.
Consequently, the Department for Transport have reported that careless or reckless driving has been a contributory factor in 16 per cent of accidents, with the failure to look properly a reported cause in over 40 per cent of severe accident injuries.
From July 2013, new legislation is to be enforced, which will see the redoubling of efforts to instantly crack down on mobile use while driving as well as other wilfully negligent or reckless behaviour, such as motorway tailgating and hogging the middle lane.
Spot fines of £100 and the issuing of three penalty points by the police will dispense immediate remedial action to avoid targeted offenders having to appear in court for careless driving offences, which usually takes many months. It is the first time in ten years that the spot fine, originally set at £60 for using a mobile when driving, has been raised.
In March 2012, the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Transport Research Laboratory published the results of a survey, which found that using a smartphone to access social networks while driving “was more dangerous than drink-driving or being high on cannabis.”
The study also revealed that reaction times “slowed” by nearly 40 per cent so that drivers missed vital road “events”, were unable to respond as quickly to speed changes by the car in front or maintain a central lane position.
In a direct comparison between using a mobile while driving and other driving activities, it was found that social networking or texting caused a reduced reaction time of just over 37 per cent compared to a 26 per cent reduction when using a hands free set. There was also a stark contrast to the impaired response of driving under the influence of alcohol ( up to 100mg per 100ml of blood) of between 6 – 15 per cent or cannabis ( 21 per cent).
According to the RAC report 2012, “Too many motorists do not treat using hand held mobiles as an offence, which suggests that current penalties are not working.”
From July, enforcement of the new legislation, if successful, may change motorist attitudes and driving behaviour, and reduce needless accidents.