- Mobile phone use at the wheel continues in the UK
- 12,000 drivers prosecuted every year
- Some of the highest fines in Europe seemingly no deterrent
Despite high-profile campaigns and equally high fines for breaking the law, UK drivers continue to flout the law where mobile phone use is concerned. IAM RoadSmart's latest figures.
Ministry of Justice figures for 2016 - the most recent whole year for statistics - show the number of offenders convicted of 'using or causing others to use a handheld mobile phone while driving' stood at 11,961.
Penalties for mobile phone use in cars
It's remarkable that UK drivers are undeterred by the consequences. The UK has some of the highest fines for using hand-held mobile phones in Europe – German motoring organisation ADAC shows many European countries are relatively lenient towards motorists using a hand-held phone while driving – compared to Britain's €225 equivalent and six points on the licence, Germany only fines up to €100, France €135 and Italy €160.
Elsehere, the fines are similarly low, with Bulgaria, Iceland, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic all less than €100.
Despite affordable hands-free kits available aftermarket, and most new cars coming equipped with bluetooth or more advanced smartphone integration such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, Britain's drivers seem to be addicted to their hand-held mobile phones, and not just for phone calls.
Road users see the risk, but drivers choose to ignore it
IAM RoadSmart’s own Safety Culture Survey showed that 90% of those surveyed felt the dangers caused by people accessing social media or email messages while driving was a significant threat to their personal safety and they felt it was an even bigger threat than drink-driving.
Sarah Sillars, IAM RoadSmart Chief Executive Officer, said: 'Motorists need to make the connection that using a hand-held phone is a major distraction to the task of driving. There is no such thing as multi-tasking when it comes to driving – when you drive, there is nothing else you should be doing.
'Handheld mobile phone use is a top concern for British drivers and heavy fines and extra points are a key part of the government strategy to combat it. Clearly this is not enough and unless selfish drivers fear that they will be caught, far too many will continue to flout the law.
'What we want to see is a combination of effective penalties, more personal and corporate responsibility and vehicle, smartphone and social media companies working together to generate hi-tech solutions to the distractions caused by their technology.
'No call is worth risking your own or someone else’s life for. Remember, make the glovebox the phonebox and put temptation out of reach,' she added.
How can I avoid a penalty for mobile phone use when driving?
In short, don't use a mobile phone when driving. If you must make calls when behind the wheel - and for many company car drivers, those hours on the road are a vital time to make contact - then use a proper hands-free kit. How you're using your mobile device isn't important; if you're caught holding it when driving, that isn't hands-free.
Most cars produced since 2010 have some sort of bluetooth hands-free system, from a basic Citroen C3 to high-end Jaguar, BMW or Audi models. Since 2016, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have enabled extensive, integrated use of your smartphone - including voice-controlled operation for navgiation, media and of course, calls.
You don't even have to have a bulky display on show in cars like the Audi A3, which retract the infotainment screen.
If your car is older, or wasn't equipped, third-party kits can be found for as little as £50, and many aftermarket head units include bluetooth, microphone and basic connectivity for calls too. Apple CarPlay is also available in many third-party infotainment systems.
In short: there's no excuse. If it matters enough to you to make that call, it matters enough to spend the money on a safe hands-free system too.