A report led by the University of the West of England found four out of five collision investigators surveyed for the research indicated mobile phone involvement in non-fatal accidents was under-reported, with half agreeing the role of phones was even overlooked in fatal crashes.
The study comes after RAC data showed 31% of drivers admitted to having made a call while driving in the last year.
Dr Paul Pilkington, senior lecturer in public health at the University of the West of England who led the study, said that the under-reporting of mobile phone use in collisions was a “massive problem”.
An officer told researchers: “Due to the costs, this is an area that, in my view, is under-investigated. If properly investigated every time, the proportion of [accidents] where phone use was contributory would increase significantly.”
Dr Pilkington worked with the National Roads Policing Intelligence Forum to survey 134 road traffic collision investigation officers as part of his study into the reporting and recording of mobile phone involvement in accidents.
For his research, he asked officers across the UK about the procedure they followed in the aftermath of a collision.
He was told phones were only routinely seized and analysed in fatal and life-changing injury crashes.
Dr Pilkington said not doing so leaves a “significant gap” not only in terms of enforcement, but also monitoring of the role of phones in crashes.
“The result is significant under-reporting of the role of mobile phones in road traffic crashes, as well as inadequate justice for the victims of those affected by the actions of drivers using their phones behind the wheel,” he added.
It is thought that as many as 11 million motorists could now be making or receiving a call while driving and an astonishing five million taking photos or videos.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “It is alarming to see that some drivers have clearly relaxed their attitudes to the risks associated with this behaviour but more worryingly is the increase in the percentage of motorists who actually admit to using a handheld device when driving.”