Switch off your phone when you get back behind the wheel

As travel restrictions begin to ease, IAM RoadSmart is reminding drivers to refocus on the road after weeks spent relying on screens and phones to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues.

The UK’s largest independent road safety charity is concerned that driver distraction from mobile phones could escalate because good driver behaviour habits may have been lost during the lockdown.

The use of mobile phones while driving, for texting, emailing or to use social media, is seen as one of the biggest threats to road safety for nine out of 10 motorists, according to IAM RoadSmart’s annual Driving Safety Culture Survey.

Now in its fifth year, the survey shows mobile phones to be consistently one of the main stress factors for British motorists. The survey reflects the views of just over 2,000 motorists, weighted by gender, region and age group to be representative of the UK driving population as a whole.

While the majority (90%) of respondents claimed not to use the internet, text or email while driving themselves, for 70% of respondents other drivers’ distraction from talking or texting on a mobile phone is more of a problem than it was three years ago. Just 6% believe the problem has reduced.

And with technology companies reporting that demand for data has risen substantially during lockdown, as people have turned to their devices for entertainment and to stay in touch with loved ones and work, IAM RoadSmart believes that a new dependency on video conferencing apps, social media and instant messaging could cause a rise in dangerous driving behaviours. The charity is concerned that phone-loving drivers could ignore driving safety legislation and continue to use their devices when they get back behind the wheel.

More women (73%) than men (68%) are concerned about the risks posed by mobile phones. Concern rises with age, and drivers aged 70 and over are the most concerned (73%), compared with 68% of 17-34 year olds.

Although overall, levels of concern about mobile phone use have fallen back slightly since 2016, it has consistently remained a top three problem for motorists, along with traffic congestion and aggressive drivers.

And while the majority of drivers, in all age groups and all regions, continue to perceive talking and texting on a mobile phone as a threat to their personal safety, as many as four per cent admitted to using the internet, or sending a text or email while driving, and nine per cent stated they have used voice activation to interact with their smartphone.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s Director of Policy and Research, said: “These results make it clear that there is still an alarming minority of drivers who access social media, send and read texts or even email while behind the wheel. And we believe this could now grow with increased screen dependency following lockdown.  

“Driving is a complex activity that requires concentration. Anyone behind the wheel should have their full attention on the road and other road users so they can observe, plan ahead and anticipate what action is needed to get to their destination safely.

“Being connected to family, friends and work colleagues is important, but nothing should be more important than keeping your full attention on the task of driving. This is even more important after an extended period off the roads.

“If you make a journey in the coming days and weeks as travel restrictions start to ease, remember that the best way to avoid the distraction of your mobile phone is to switch it off and put it out of reach.”