Is using your phone whilst driving dangerous?

It has been illegal in the UK to use a hand-held phone while driving since 2003. In 2017, the law was updated to increase the fines and penalty points a driver could expect to receive if they were caught using their phone. Currently, those caught on the phone will face a £200 fine and 6 penalty points on their licence. If a newly qualified driver is caught within the first 2 years of passing their test, they will lose their licence.

This update to the law was intended to make drivers understand the seriousness of the issue of distracted driving. Unfortunately, it is still common to see drivers using hand-held phones behind the wheel – whether to have a conversation, send a text message, or check social media.

Distracted driving is one of the ‘fatal 4’ behaviours targeted by the police, using a range of enforcement approaches. With increasing amounts of technology in vehicles, driver distraction remains a significant road safety issue.

Why are drivers ignoring the law?

Research that asks drivers about their phone use has shown that while many report that they think phone use is dangerous, some also say that they regularly use their phones to make calls or send text messages. While a majority of drivers may agree that taking your eyes off the road to look at a phone is dangerous, some see no issue with having a hand-held phone conversation, and many continue to ignore the law.

One reason for this is perhaps that drivers think it is unlikely that they will get caught, or that perhaps phone use isn’t actually that much of a danger. People also tend to over-estimate their own driving ability, leading them to think that it is other drivers who need to change their behaviours, rather than themselves.

Is the law part of the problem?

The current mobile phone law encourages drivers to believe that the main issue with phone use is the need to physically hold a phone and/or take your eyes off the road. Decades of research in this area has shown that the primary issue with phone use by drivers is the cognitive distraction it causes. This is why hands-free phone use is equally as distracting as hand-held phone use. As the law focuses on the hand-held aspect of phone use, it fails to address these research findings and sends out the message to the public that phone use is only dangerous if the driver has to touch their phone.

The Current Mobile Phone laws are outdated and not fit for purpose. They also, by implication, suggest that hands-free phone use is a safe alternative to hand-held use despite compelling research evidence, including our own, which disputes this.
~Dr. Gemma Briggs

How does phone use affect driving?

Drivers who use their phones (either hand-held or hands-free):

Head over to the blog for articles which explain these effects and how we have researched them.