Driven to distraction

Article date: 13 October 2010

  • Number of motorists admitting to using their phones while driving triples in a year.  

The number of motorists who admit to taking calls and sending text messages while on the road has tripled in a year, rising from 8% to 28% and 11% to 31% respectively, according to the 2010 RAC Report on Motoring1. Furthermore, over a third (39%) of UK motorists admit to being distracted by calls, texts and social media applications on their mobile phones while they are driving, according to new research figures2 released today by the RAC. 

This research found that on an average car journey of 23 minutes3, a motorist’s phone rings or beeps at least once.  Just over half of (53%) motorists admit they are likely to take their eyes of the road to see who a call is from and 45% admit they would look to see who a text is from. Young drivers (17-24 year olds) are most likely to glance at their phones while driving if it rings or beeps (58%).

More than one in five of motorists (21%) admit they are likely to check a social media alert from applications such as Facebook and Twitter while driving. The top five social media sites and applications which motorists admitted to using while on the road (either stationary with the engine running, or driving) are:

  1. Email – 11%
  2. Google Maps – 9%
  3. Music – 9%
  4. Photos – 8%
  5. Facebook – 7%

Almost half (46%)* of all motorists who receive calls when they are driving claim not to be distracted by them, and 47% believe texting on the road does not divert their attention from driving. However figures from the Department of Transport show that 509 people in 2009 were hurt in accidents caused by drivers distracted using their mobile phone, with 16%  seriously injured or killed.

Many motorists think it is permissible to use mobile phones while driving when the car is not moving. Over a quarter (26%) believes it is acceptable to use phones (for calling, texting and social media) at traffic lights, a third (33%) believe using a phone in a lay-by is permissible, and 9% say using phones while stuck in traffic is reasonable.

Commenting on the findings, Adrian Tink, RAC motoring strategist said: “It’s extremely concerning that the use of mobile phones for texting and calling has risen in the past year. It is also worrying that people are admitting to using their phone for a whole host of social media applications while driving.

“Taking your eye off the road, just for a second, to read an alert or check who a call came from can have potentially fatal results. This steep rise in mobile phone usage at the wheel could potentially be set to continue as more and more people embrace smart phone technology.

“Many people do not realise it is an offence to use a mobile phone while a vehicle is stationary in a lay-by, traffic jam, traffic lights or at the side of the road, with the engine running. RAC is calling for existing laws around mobile phone usage to be strictly enforced and for the government to consider widening safety campaigns to educate motorists about the dangers of using a mobile phone at the wheel.”

The impact of distractions
The research also looked at the impact of mobile phone distractions on driving performance and concentration, and the potentially fatal distances that vehicles can travel when motorists avert their eyes from the road for just a couple of seconds.

Figure 1 - How your speed and distraction affect how long your eyes are off the road

How your speed and distraction affect how long your eyes are off the road

For example, a motorist glancing at their phone is estimated to take their eye off the road for approximately two seconds. 

For a car travelling at 30mph, this means a motorist would be distracted from the road for 27 metres. At 70mph, this more than doubles to 63 metres, equivalent to the length of six double decker buses, with the car driver largely unaware of their surroundings and the behaviour of other road users.

When you add this to the typical stopping distance of 96 metres6, it could even be as far as 123 metres (at 30mph) and 159 metres (at 70mph), equivalent to the length of 14 double decker buses, before the driver is able to bring the vehicle to a complete standstill.

Tackling distractions?
Just over half of all UK motorists (51%) believe the current law of automatic points added to an offender’s driving licence is the best deterrent to people using a hand held mobile device behind the wheel. However over one in three UK drivers (38%) believe better education of the potential implications including dangers, fines and convictions, is needed.

RAC tips on how to use your mobile safely on the road

  1. Put your phone on silent, or even better turn it off while you are driving. That way you won’t be distracted by incoming calls and text messages.
  2. If you need to have your phone on then either use a hands-free device or pull over to a safe place and turn-off the engine, to make or receive calls.
  3. If you are using your phone as a Sat-Nav and need to make a change to your journey, pull over in a safe place and turn-off the engine, before reprogramming.


For further information, please contact:
Katy Hurren, RAC Press Office, 01603 683618                               

Jenny Chapman, RAC Press Office, 01603 689894

Sam Corry, Hill & Knowlton, 0207 973 3515

*2010 RAC Report on Motoring: In total, 1,150 British motorists were surveyed (ie those who hold a current driving licence and drive at least once a month). The survey was conducted in March 2010, with the questionnaire taking around 25 minutes to complete.

2009 RAC Report on Motoring: In total, 1,109 British motorists were surveyed (ie those who hold a current driving licence and drive at least once a month). The survey was conducted in April 2010, with the questionnaire taking around 20 minutes to complete.

2  In total, 1,009 British motorists were surveyed (ie those who hold a current driving licence and drive at least once a month). The survey was conducted in September 2010, with the questionnaire taking around 20 minutes to complete.

3  22.9 minutes – Department for Transport National Travel Survey 2009

4  Department for Transport Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report 2009.

This diagram illustrates how far a car will travel at a specific speed whilst distracted for a precise amount of time. 

Stopping distances are taken from the Department for Transport – Official Highway Code. 

Notes to editors:

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