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One in five drivers is still using their mobile at the wheel a year after tough new penalties were introduced, according to a new survey from vehicle CCTV providers SmartWitness.

It means that 7 million motorists are still regularly flouting the law, even though it could result in automatic disqualification. In March last year, the government doubled the penalties to six points on the licence and on-the-spot-fines of £200. Drivers who get six points within two years of passing their test are automatically banned.

The level of abuse has gone down since the clampdown was introduced – one in four drivers were using their phones while driving at the time the new penalties were brought in.

Figures released by the Department for Transport reveal there are still unacceptably high levels of illegal phone use among drivers, with 37% of drivers believing the chance of getting caught is minimal, and 52% not concerned about the impact of getting caught.

Checking your phone while stopped in traffic is still illegal

The most common way drivers break the law is by checking their phones for incoming messages while driving: 21% of motorists admitted to doing that.

One in seven drivers (14%) said they still spoke on the phone while at the wheel and answered incoming calls, Three-quarters of drivers (76%) were aware of the increased penalties and two-thirds of those surveyed (67%) said they would support a further increase in fines and penalty points to deter future abuses.

The overwhelming majority of drivers breaking the law with phones (69%) claim that they only did it when they were stuck in traffic or moving slowly, and nearly all drivers (92%) ignore their phones when they are driving at speed. And only 8% of drivers have a ‘cradle’ in their cars so they can use their phones hands-free and avoid breaking the law.

SmartWitness chief executive Paul Singh said: “While it is welcome news that fewer drivers are using their phones behind the wheel, these figures are still a huge concern for everyone wanting to improve road safety. Studies consistently show that using a mobile phone while driving is as dangerous as drink driving. Yet 7 million drivers are consistently flouting the law and ignoring concerted efforts to clamp down on the problem.

“The way to tackle this abuse is to make using your phone at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink driving and we all have responsibility to hammer home this point. If you know of a driver using a phone or you are a passenger with someone who does this, tell them to stop.”

Neil Worth, road safety officer for breakdown provider GEM Motoring Assist, commented:“You wouldn’t do it with a police officer watching… so ask yourself is there anything that makes it any less risky or foolish just because the police aren’t there? The answer is no. It is irresponsible and puts not only your own safety at risk, but the safety of those who happen to be sharing the road space with you.

Handy tips for mobile phone safety

GEM Motoring Assist has produced a list of mobile phone tips for drivers:

  1. You’re allowed to use a mobile phone when you are safely parked, with the engine off and the handbrake on.
  2. Do not pick up your phone in any other driving situation, including when you’re stationary at traffic lights or queueing in traffic.
  3. The only exception to this is if it’s an emergency and it would be unsafe or impractical to stop, in which case you may call 999.
  4. Don’t assume that using a hands-free kit means you have dealt with the risk. You are still allowing yourself to be distracted from the task of safe driving, and you could still be prosecuted for not being in control (an offence that carries a £100 fine and three penalty points).
  5. Take a few minutes before a journey to make important calls or to check voice messages and emails. Work together with friends, family, colleagues and work contacts to remove the expectation that we should all be available, all the time.
  6. Plan journeys to build in breaks from driving, where you can call, text or email or interact with social media in a safe environment.

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Michael Dalton
Michael Daltonhttp://thevanexpert.co.uk
Michael graduated from university in 2016 with a degree in Human, Social, and Political Sciences. He is a former contributor to both The Car Expert and The Van Expert.