Illegal mobile phone useIt’s all too easy to spot a motorist breaking the law. Whether you’re driving along a motorway or waiting at the traffic lights, it won’t be long before you see a fellow driver either with a phone pressed to their ear or with their head down, sending a really-very-important text message.

You’d like to think that the majority of drivers know the difference between right and wrong, but figures released by the RAC reveal this certainly isn’t the case.

The RAC asked motorists which offences they believe are against the law. The results are quite alarming:

  • Texting whilst driving: 88%
  • Checking social media: 79%
  • Tailgating: 69%
  • Aggressive driving: 65%
  • Hogging the middle lane: 58%
  • Driving with a partially cracked windscreen: 55%
  • Having a TV in the front seat: 53%
  • Driving in bare feet: 31%
  • Smoking with children in the car: 18%

Of these, all but driving in bare feet and smoking with children in the car are actually illegal, although from October this year, drivers in England will be banned from smoking in the cars when carrying children. It follows a similar ban in Wales, with ministers in Scotland also considering its introduction.

A fifth of drivers believe it’s safe to check social media

So looking at those figures again, we can see that 12 percent of drivers believe it’s perfectly legal to text whilst driving, with a massive 21 percent saying it’s fine to check social media. Last we knew, seeing photos of kittens on Facebook wasn’t something we’d consider risking prosecution for. Or indeed, endangering the life of a fellow motorist.

But is the problem for the offenders a genuine lack of awareness or a belief that they simply won’t get caught? The figures released by the RAC said that 75 percent of motorists had observed other drivers using their phones whilst driving, but only 8 percent would readily admit to doing it themselves.

Higher proportion of young drivers admit to using phone

This figure almost doubled when speaking to 17-24 year olds, many of whom would have grown up with a smartphone surgically attached to their body, so the chances of leaving it alone on the commute to the office or college campus are slim. And of course, with fewer police officers patrolling our roads, the likelihood of getting caught are equally small. No wonder 42 percent of people surveyed felt they wouldn’t get caught.

Should we be surprised by the findings? Perhaps not, because there does seem to be a general decline in the overall standard of driving. Today’s cars cosset us and lure us into a false of security, cutting down on wind and road noise, surrounding us with airbags and active safety features. We’ve become over-reliant on the ability of our cars to get us out of trouble should things go wrong.

Illegal, but also plain irresponsible

Which is the only way we can explain the figures for tailgating and aggressive driving. It’s perhaps understandable why some motorists might not believe it’s illegal to drive in such a way, but surely there would be an acknowledgment that it simply isn’t the done thing?

As the RAC points out, the majority of motorists expect to get away with most driving offences, but paradoxically they’d like to see more police on the road to act as a genuine deterrent. This should result in more law abiding and safer drivers.

What’s the solution?

In the meantime, what’s the answer? If you’re caught using a hand-held phone while driving or riding, you’ll be hit with three penalty points on your licence and a fine of £100. Since the law was introduced in 2003, over a million motorist have been caught, which suggests the penalty isn’t severe enough.

Indeed, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has previously recommended doubling the number of penalty points after he saw an increase in the number of deaths and injuries caused by dangerous driving in the nation’s capital.

But that would still require policing and there’s little likelihood of extra officers being deployed to enforce the legislation. One potential solution we’ve seen this week is to allow motorists to submit dashcam or mobile phone footage of drivers flouting the law. This could be a long way off and there would need to be a change in legislation in order for it to happen.

In the meantime, the message is simple. Like drink-driving or driving without a seatbelt, using a hand-held mobile device whilst driving is illegal and dangerous. The law should therefore be treated with the same respect. Leave your phone in your bag or in the glovebox.

The figures released by the RAC formed part of a 2014 Report on Motoring. You can view the infographic below.

RAC infographic motoring report