Report on Motoring 2016

A rise in phone fears

2.1 A rise in phone fears

48% admitted to using their phone at the wheel to make or receive calls while in stationary traffic

31% admitted to using their phone to make or receive calls while driving

14% said they have used their smartphones to take photos or videa while driving

20% think it is acceptable to check social media while sitting in traffic

Motorists are particularly concerned about other drivers using handheld mobile phones while in charge of their vehicles – and these levels of concern have risen dramatically since the 2015 Report on Motoring was published. Last year just over a third (34%) said that use of a handheld phone for talking, texting or internet access was one of their top four concerns. In 2016, the figure has risen to 41%.

This year 13% of those questioned said phone use by others was their number-one concern, up from 10% in 2015, and second only to the condition and maintenance of local roads as this year’s most common chief concern (cited by 14% of motorists).

It is difficult to say to what extent the distractions from handheld mobile phone use cause accidents, or whether this problem has become more acute, but it is likely that official statistics understate the problem.

Motorists' attitudes to handheld mobile phone use while driving

Despite a high level of concern, a significant minority of motorists do admit to using handheld phones to make or receive calls while driving. Almost a third (31%) have done so at least once in the past 12 months: 15% say they rarely do so, 10% say they use their phones in this way only sometimes, while 6% admit using handheld phones at the wheel most or all of the time.

Motorists are much more likely to use their handheld phones while sitting in stationary traffic with their engines on, despite the fact that this is also against the law.

Almost half of drivers (49%) have done so in the past year, while 46% admit to having checked texts, emails or social media while stationary.

The idea that it is acceptable to use a phone while stuck in traffic or queuing at a set of lights, for example, seems to be gaining currency. A fifth of motorists (20%) say they agree with the statement ‘It is safe to text or check social media on your phone when stationary’, up from 17% in 2015.

And equally worryingly, taking phone calls on a handheld phone while driving is unacceptable to fewer motorists this year; only 78% thought taking a quick call was unacceptable, down from 83% 12 months ago.

As for the reasons given for using a handheld phone while driving, 23% say ‘It was an emergency’, while 21% did so to obtain information needed for their journeys; 20% made a call because ‘It could have been an emergency’.

46% of people admit to having checked texts, emails or social media while stationary

78% of motorists think taking quick pjone calls on a handheld phone while driving is unacceptable

We surveyed 7,000 drivers and 95% of them rated their own driving as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ and it was everybody else on the road that they were worried about. This ties into the concern about road safety where people think, ‘it’s not me; it’s everybody else’.

- Sarah Sillars, Chief Executive, IAM RoadSmart

Figures for other types of phone use while in control of a moving vehicle are particularly alarming: 26% admit they have checked messages while driving in the last 12 months, while 19% have written and sent texts, emails or social media updates, despite the huge distractions involved. Finally, one in seven motorists (14%) say they have actually used their phones to take pictures or record videos while at the wheel.

The 2016 Report on Motoring has also looked at the wider distractions reported by drivers. The most common is tiredness, cited by 40% of motorists as one of their top five distractions, followed by passengers talking (39%) and ’something interesting happening outside the car’ (37%). Such distractions, however, rarely appear in casualty statistics and accidents attributable to such distractions are all too often simply attributed to ‘driver error’.

A fifth (18%) of drivers cited being distracted by their mobile ringing, while 11% say using their mobile is a distraction. Only one in six motorists (16%) claim that they don’t get distracted while driving.

While concerns over the behaviour of other drivers have grown, more people think that the roads themselves are safer now than in the past (46% against 42% in 2015), and almost two-thirds (63%) believe that driver-assistance technologies, which are increasingly common in the latest generations of vehicles, are making driving safer. And not surprisingly, 84% of motorists agree that cars are safer than they used to be (86% in 2015).

It is interesting to see that tiredness is cited as the number-one distraction for drivers. One of the key reasons that people pull off into service areas is just to have a bit of a break.
But there are issues concerning the limits put on how long motorists can stay in service areas. If you put the seat back and get your head down for a couple of hours, then that is the responsible thing to do, and you don’t expect someone to come along and slap a charge on you as a result.

- Theo de Pencier, Non-executive Board Member, Transport Focus