Almost a fifth of young drivers have used their mobile phone to make a video call while driving, and one in 10 has played games on their device while at the wheel, according to shocking new research.
Motorists aged 17 to 24 are the most likely to have made a video call on the road - at 18 per cent - but figures from the RAC’s 2020 Report on Motoring reveal that eight per cent of all drivers admit to having done so.
The RAC’s Simon Williams said that the rising popularity of video calling in apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger presented a “clear and present danger” to road safety.
The poll of more than 3,000 motorists also found that nine per cent of 17-24-year-olds had played games on their phone while driving, three times more than the average UK driver, and revealed a worrying increase in illegal phone calls.
The survey found a five per cent year-on-year increase in the number of drivers illegally making and receiving calls on a handheld phone - up to 29 per cent, the highest rate since 2016.
However, the number owning up to sending text messages has dropped from 14 per cent last year to eight per cent this year, with a significant decrease (37 to 15 per cent) among the 17-24 age group.
The punishment for using a handheld mobile phone while driving is £200 and six penalty points.
Motorists said that other drivers’ phone use was their second biggest worry on the road and the survey found substantial support for the use of camera technology to catch and punish drivers using their phone at the wheel.
Seventy-nine per cent of drivers said they backed the introduction of camera systems similar to those used in Australia.
RAC road safety spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Our figures highlight what many drivers already know – that the problem of illegal phone use at the wheel has far from disappeared. While there’s been a reduction in some elements of this dangerous activity, more people say they are making and taking calls now than at any point since 2016, shortly before tougher penalties were introduced.
“And the rise in the popularity of video calls means this type of communication represents a new, clear and present danger on the UK’s roads in 2020.
“Our findings from 2016 were a watershed moment which led to the UK Government calling for people to make illegal mobile phone use while driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. The fact drivers still state it’s their second biggest motoring concern of all shows that more progress still needs to be made here.
“It’s also the case that the bar to convict somebody under the current offence of using a handheld mobile phone while driving is high, making it difficult for the police to enforce. Any mobile phone activity that doesn’t involve telecommunications, such as checking text messages, recording a video or changing pre-downloaded music, is also, bizarrely, not covered by the set mobile phone law, although drivers could be convicted for not being in proper control of their vehicles.
“So, it’s significant that motorists are united in their desire to see camera-based technology, like that already in use in other countries, introduced on our roads to catch drivers who risk everyone’s safety by breaking the law in this way. If the behaviour of those who continue to think it’s safe to use a handheld phone while driving upwards of a tonne of metal is ever going to change, they need to believe there’s a reasonable chance of being caught.”
Inspector Frazer Davey of the Avon and Somerset Police Roads Policing unit said: “The importance of concentrating on your driving cannot be overstated. Using a mobile phone while in charge of a car puts you and everyone else at risk. The consequences of allowing yourself to be distracted while you are driving can be catastrophic. It’s simply not worth it.”
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake called for tougher rules to stop phone use while driving.
He said: “Any use of a phone behind the wheel is dangerous but the fact that such a large proportion of young people admit to making video calls and playing games when driving really beggars belief.
“We need clarity in the law around phone use behind the wheel, and we need it now. The Government must implement a full ban on phone use when driving, including hands-free, to make the dangers crystal clear to the public and to crack down on this reckless behaviour. The police must also be provided with the right tools and investment to enforce the roads effectively.”