Findings from 2020's comprehensive study of UK drivers' views

The dangers on our roads


One of the biggest motoring concerns for millions of drivers is the danger they face from other motorists on the UK’s roads. Three-in-10 (29%) of drivers say their top concern relates to the illegal or reckless behaviour of others – from handheld mobile phone use at the wheel to road rage and drink-driving. Indeed, the vast majority of drivers (79%) say they want police to use camera technology to spot illegal mobile phone use.

Handheld phone use still too high

According to the 2020 Report on Motoring, a third (32%) of Britain’s 40 million drivers – equivalent to more than 13 million people – say that handheld mobile phone use by other drivers is one of their top concerns this year.

And while 8% say it is their number-one concern in 2020, this is in fact a significant fall on the 12% recorded in 2019. It is possible that the dramatic fall in traffic volumes caused by the Covid-19 lockdown which started in March means that the average car owner has witnessed less of this kind of law-breaking behaviour in recent months.

The Report also asked drivers about their own behaviour with regard to in-car mobile phone use. In 2020, there has been a worrying increase in the number of motorists who admit they make or receive calls on a handheld mobile phone while driving: this year, 29% of motorists say they do this at least occasionally, up from 24% in 2019 and the highest proportion since 2016.

It may be that the increase in penalties and public awareness campaigns that were introduced in 2017 following the RAC Report on Motoring highlighting the issue being at epidemic levels have faded from popular consciousness to some extent.

There has also been an increase this year in the number of drivers who say they make or receive handheld calls while their car is stationary with the engine on (which is also illegal): 42% say they do this at least occasionally, up from 39% in 2019.

A third of drivers (29%) say they write texts or emails, or post on social media, while stationary with the engine on. In 2019, the proportion was 30%.

The problem of illegal phone use appears to be particularly prominent among young people. Almost one-in-five (18%) of drivers aged 17-24 admit to taking part in video calls while behind the wheel, making them twice as likely to do this than average, while 9% say they play games on their phones while driving.

But there has been a very slight fall in the number of people who check texts, emails or social media while driving: around 15% admit to having done this in 2020, down from 17% last year. And the number who check texts and so on while stationary has dropped from 34% to 29%.

Of the 79% who support the introduction of camera technology to identify illegal mobile phone users – something that has been trialled in other countries – the vast majority (52%) are strongly in favour of this happening.  

Dangerous driving

The third most widespread motoring concern in 2020 – behind the state of local roads and illegal mobile phone use – is the poor standard of other motorists’ driving, cited by more than a quarter (27%) of drivers in 2020. Aggressive behaviour on the part of other drivers was an issue for (26%) of those surveyed, making it the fourth greatest concern this year.

Meanwhile, reckless or lawbreaking behaviour on the part of cyclists is a growing concern in 2020: 22% of drivers say this is one of their top four concerns this year, up from 16% in 2019. It is possible that restrictions on many leisure activities at the height of the lockdown, especially those indoors such as gyms, led to an increase in the number of cyclists on the roads over the spring and summer period, and that this fuelled a rise in concern. Data from the Department for Transport indicated cycling did indeed increase. It is worth remembering that around a fifth of drivers (22%) say that they themselves cycle at least once a month/

Driving under the influence

Drink-driving is a top-four concern for 20% of motorists in 2020, down slightly from 23% 12 months ago. There has also been a fall in the number of motorists who believe they have driven under the influence of alcohol this year: only 7% think they have, down from 19% in 2019. No doubt this at least partly reflects the restrictions placed on socialising and the opening of pubs and bars since the Covid-19 lockdown was initially imposed.

Finally, fewer motorists say drug-driving is one of their main four concerns in 2020: the rate has fallen to 15% from 18%.

Focuses for police enforcement

Motorists were also asked which traffic laws – aside from speeding – they would most like road traffic police to prioritise in terms of enforcement, with respondents asked to name up to three offences.

A majority (55%) of drivers said police should pay greater attention to combating handheld phone use – a particular concern for drivers over the age of 45 (61%). Dangerous driving was named as a priority by 51%, and by 55% of female motorists. Drink-driving and drug-driving (40% and 30% respectively) were the next biggest priorities, while 24% of motorists said the police should pay greater attention to those who hogged the middle lane on motorways.