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Drivers unable to kick illegal use of handheld phones even if causing a crash

Drivers unable to kick illegal use of handheld phones even if causing a crash

Only three in five drivers who use a handheld phone say causing a crash would make them kick the habit  

Not even the thought of causing an accident appears to be enough for some drivers to permanently break the habit of illegally using a handheld phone at the wheel, research for the RAC’s ‘Be Phone Smart’ campaign has found.

The campaign encourages drivers to rethink their relationship with their phone whenever they’re driving.  

It has the backing of a wide range of organisations and initiatives including the National Police Chiefs’ Council, THINK!, IAM RoadSmart, the Road Haulage Association, Road Safety GB, Transport Scotland and a number of UK police forces.  

At its core is a website, www.BePhoneSmart.uk, offering hints and tips to drivers and providing an opportunity to make, and share via Facebook and Twitter, an online promise to not use a handheld phone at the wheel. The campaign hashtag is #BePhoneSmart.

While 60% of drivers said causing an accident would make them stop for good, the RAC is surprised the figure is not significantly higher given that the consequences can be so severe in terms of the impact on human life.  

When given a range of scenarios which might make a driver immediately stop using a mobile phone illegally, being personally responsible for causing an accident came top, followed by being caught or the threat of being caught by a police officer (55% and 54% respectively), knowing the victim of an accident where handheld phone use was a factor (54%), and causing a near-miss (53%).  

The findings suggest a sizeable minority of drivers still do not see anything wrong with using a handheld phone illegally because they believe they are not likely to cause an accident or be stopped by the police.  

That is despite the clear risk of distraction while using a handheld phone - as shown by a number of high profile cases reported in the media - and the fact that police forces are now much more visible in their enforcement of the law on mobile phone use.  

A total of 86% of those motorists who admitted to using a handheld phone claimed they would be willing to give up the illegal habit for good. Drivers cited the police as being the group that would have the biggest positive influence on them stopping (25% of respondents), suggesting that enforcement of the law was key to getting motorists to change their ways.  

Family members were also seen as having an important role in making drivers rethink how they used their phone in the car, with 18% of respondents saying that group would have greatest impact on them giving up. A similar proportion said that they thought the work of road safety campaigners would encourage them to kick the habit, followed by government (8%) and friends (6%).  

The figures also highlight how being sat in stationary traffic increased the likelihood of drivers reaching for their phone and using it at the wheel with more than half (57%) of those who admitted to using a handheld phone saying that was when they were most likely to do so.  

That suggested, said the RAC, that addicted motorists were struggling to resist the temptation to use their phone, and perhaps used it to seek relief from the boredom of traffic jams.  

Pete Williams, spokesperson for the RAC’s ‘Be Phone Smart’ campaign, said: “It seems reasonable to expect that causing an accident while using a handheld phone would be enough to force every driver to change their ways. But our data suggests otherwise - while six in 10 motorists told us they thought that would motivate them to kick the illegal habit, that indicates a remarkable four in 10 didn’t think it would.

“This is a worrying statistic and suggests that some drivers are still failing to see just how distracting using a handheld phone at the wheel can be, even though it has been illegal in the UK since 2003.  

“Our research also highlights the extent to which sitting in traffic congestion is intrinsically linked to the compulsion to interact with a handheld device - drivers see this as ‘spare time’ to fill by using their phone, but it remains illegal and dangerous.  

“Handheld phone use has become rooted in the behaviour of some drivers and it is going to take a herculean effort to change their mindset. No single action will achieve this and we need to educate a combination of education so drivers understand the dangers, encourage them to give the habit up, and combine this with rigorous enforcement of the law, so those breaking the law can expect to get caught.”