Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone Contents

6Public awareness

29.In 2016, when the Government announced its plans to increase penalties for using a mobile phone while driving, the then Prime Minister said:

[…] we need to work with the public to raise awareness of the dangers of using a mobile phone when driving. Just as we have made it socially unacceptable to drink and drive, so we need to do the same with using a mobile phone while driving.

We need people to realise the tragedy they can inflict in a fleeting moment and stop people using a mobile when their eyes and mind should be on the road and their hands on the wheel.51

Despite increasing the penalties for this offence, the Government has not fulfilled the then Prime Minister’s ambitions. Dr Shaun Helman told us: “I do not think it is anywhere near as socially unacceptable as drink driving.”52

30.While the majority of the public recognises that using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous, this by no means universally accepted. The British Social Attitudes survey asks respondents whether they think all use of mobile phones—including hands-free kits—while driving is dangerous. There is a consistent majority that agrees or strongly agrees that all use of mobiles is dangerous.53 However, the survey shows that there is a small but persistent minority (around 5%) who think that it is perfectly safe to talk on a mobile phone while driving.54

31.Nick Lyes told us that the RAC’s research suggests that people are aware that it is dangerous, but they still do it. This is true of all too many road traffic offences—in a 2011 survey 89% of drivers reported speeding in the past 12 months, more than a third said they had driven after drinking, and a sixth admitted to having driven while not wearing a seatbelt.55 Mr Lyes said that there is still probably a lack of understanding about just how risky it can be, saying “People know it is wrong, but I do not think they are aware of just how risky it is”.56 We heard that the issue of mobile phone use by drivers would only become more of an issue over the coming years. Dr Shaun Helman told us:

A whole generation of people are just starting to drive who have not known life without smartphones. We are sitting here talking about phones distracting people from driving. What they are interested in is the fact that driving is distracting them from using their smartphone. That is what we are dealing with, and the issue will only amplify over the next five to 10 years.57

32.Dr Gemma Briggs told us: “We need a lot more public awareness as to the dangers of phone use, whether handheld or hands-free”, and that there was a need to “establish a common understanding as to why phone use is dangerous, not just that it is”.58 Nick Lyes also told us that public information campaigns were important, and said that the way we watch TV has changed and there is therefore probably a role for anti-hand-held mobile phone adverts or campaigns on new platforms so that they can target younger people and younger professionals.59

33.When asked whether he would commit to taking action to increase public awareness of the risks of driving while using a mobile phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, the then Minister for road safety, Michael Ellis MP said: “the Department has been working extremely hard: […] we have put a lot of investment into social media to warn users of the dangers and we will continue to do so”.60 The Government’s 2019 road safety statement set out plans for a “continuous communications approach” over the next two years to highlight four major road safety hazards, including the use of hand-held mobile phones.61

34.If using a mobile phone while driving is to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, there needs to be a step change in the Government’s approach to public education. If this is to successfully change public behaviour, it is important that the Government educates the public about why using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous, not just that it is against the law. We welcome the Government’s plans to highlight the use of hand-held mobile phones as part of its communications on road safety hazards, and recommend that the Government set out—in response to this Report—a plan for devising and implementing a public education campaign about the risks of using a mobile phone while driving, and the penalties for being caught doing so. This should include an assessment of the groups it is most important to reach—such as those who have a history of committing road traffic offences—and plans for how to engage with them.

53 Department for Transport, British social attitudes survey, ATT0350: “All use of mobile phones while driving, including hands-free kits is dangerous”, July 2018

54 Department for Transport, British social attitudes survey, ATT0349: “It is perfectly safe to talk on a hand-held mobile phone while driving”, July 2018

55 NatCen, Attitudes to road safety, February 2011

60 HC Deb, 13 June 2019, col 807 [Commons Chamber]

61 Department for Transport, The Road Safety Statement 2019: A Lifetime of Road Safety, 19 July 2019, para 2.38

Published: 13 August 2019