Using a mobile phone while driving substantially increases the risk of crashing.
Drivers who use a mobile phone, whether it is hand-held or hands-free:
- react more slowly, take longer to brake and longer to stop
- are much less aware of what's happening on the road around them
- fail to see road signs
- fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
- are more likely to 'tailgate' the vehicle in front
- are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic
- feel more stressed and frustrated.
They are also four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves and other people.
Using a hands-free phone while driving does not reduce the risk because the problems are caused mainly by the mental distraction and divided attention of taking part in a phone conversation, texting or surfing the internet at the same time as driving.
In 2016, 35 people were killed, 137 seriously injured and 608 slightly injured in road crashes involving drivers using mobile phones. It is likely that this is an under-estimate.
It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving or riding a motor vehicle on the road. This includes dialling, talking on the phone, texting, checking social media, taking a photo or any other interactive communication function. It applies even when a driver has stopped at traffic lights or is queuing in traffic.
The fixed penalty is six penalty points and a £200 fine. If the offender goes to court, the fine may be much higher and they may get more penalty points.
Drivers who use a hands-free phone could be charged with 'failing to have proper control of the vehicle', depending on the circumstances, or with either careless or dangerous driving in severe cases.
Despite the law and the dangers, some drivers persist in using their mobiles while driving. In the most recent surveys, 1.6% of drivers in England and Scotland were observed using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving. This was relatively unchanged from the 1.4% observed in 2009, when the previous survey was carried out.
Male drivers are more likely to use a hand-held mobile phone when driving than female drivers (1.7% of male drivers compared with 1.3% of female drivers).
Van drivers (2.7%) are more likely to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving than car drivers (1.4%).
As can be seen in the graph below, the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers reduced after the introduction of the law in 2003, then gradually rose again. It decreased when the penalty was increased in 2007 but rose again soon afterwards. The increase slowed down when the penalty was increased in 2009. The penalty was increased again in March 2017, and over 26,000 drivers were caught using a phone during the following year.
The Simulator and Mobile Phones
The simulator allows you to compare stopping distances at different speeds, with or without a mobile phone by ticking the mobile phone box.
A car's overall stopping distance is made up of the driver's thinking distance (the distance the car travels from the point when the driver realises they need to brake and they actually start to brake) and their braking distance (the distance the car travels from the point when the driver starts to press the brake pedal and the vehicle comes to a complete stop).
Using a mobile phone while driving increases the driver's thinking distance significantly because it takes a distracted driver much longer to notice and react to hazards, compared to the time it takes an alert driver. Drivers using a phone also tend to focus their attention straight ahead and are more likely to miss other hazards around the vehicle, such as a pedestrian stepping out.
- Mobile Phones and Driving Factsheet, RoSPA, 2017
- Seat Belt and Mobile Phone Use Surveys Report, 2014, Department for Transport, 2015