Mobile phones: Immobilising safe driving

Mobile phones: Immobilising safe driving

As part of Britain’s ambition to make our roads safer, we carried out a survey with YouGov*, to investigate dangerous driving behaviours.

The survey revealed some significant findings about mobile phone usage behind the wheel. Nearly one in five admitted to texting or using their smartphone when driving – despite it being illegal to do so in the UK.

We’ve examined the current laws, exploring the dangers of drivers using a phone in any capacity and exposing how it’s jeopardising road safety.  

The UK law

What’s the current law?

It’s illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving or supervising a learner driver. If you’re caught breaking the law, you could be charged with a CU80 driving offence.

What is a CU80?

The government describes a CU80 as a “breach of requirements as to control of the vehicle, mobile telephones etc.” This will stay on your driving record for four years from the date of the offence.

We studied the motor quotes we’ve issued over the past year. Our research found a staggering 27,544 people declared a CU80 – with men more likely to have a CU80 than women. This shows many people still risk using their mobile phones while driving. And many of them caught while doing it.


The number of penalty points and the size of the fine doubles on 1 March 2017 to underline the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.

From 1 March 2017, if you’re found using a mobile phone while driving, you’ll face:

  • six penalty points on your licence
  • a fine of £200
  • disqualification and a fine of up to £1,000 if your case goes to court
  • losing your licence if you passed your driving test less than two years ago and already have six or more penalty points.

The dangers

Only 7% of respondents believe mobile phones have the most negative effect on their driving safety. However, Nick Lloyd, Road Safety Manager at Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said using a phone in your car can create cognitive, auditory and biomechanical distractions.

Road Safety Charity THINK! revealed it takes us longer to recognise and react to any hazards around us when using a mobile phone.

Seven ways mobile phones can affect your driving

  • It seems obvious, but don’t forget you’ll have less control over your vehicle by taking one or both hands off the steering wheel.
  • Remember you’ll also miss obstacles and threats in front of you if you take your eyes off the road.
  • Being distracted could mean you miss what’s going on around you – such as seeing road signs or checking mirrors properly.
  • Using a mobile phone can mean you react more slowly, meaning you’ll take longer to brake and you’re more likely to be closer to the car in front.
  • Using your phone may cause you to drift out of your lane or to drive at inconsistent speeds.
  • Thinking about your phone conversation could lead to tunnel vision, where you’re staring ahead and not properly concentrating.
  • Your texts or calls could affect your emotions, which can negatively affect how safely you’re driving.

Other ways your mobile distracts you

Using your mobile phone while driving can be dangerous in all types of ways. Just because you don’t have the phone to your ears, doesn’t mean you’re okay to drive.  

Talking: According to Brake, “the effect of talking on a phone while driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain amounts of alcohol.” Reaction times can also increase by up to 50%.

Texting, emailing and checking social media: Texting can increase reaction times by 37%. However, Brake argues that “reading and writing messages while driving – such as texting, emailing or social networking – is even more distracting than talking on a phone.” This can take “your mind, hands and eyes off the road.”

Streaming: The rise in the number of websites that feature livestreaming video has rapidly increased in the last few years. Worryingly, an increasing number of motorists are livestreaming video as they drive, interacting with comments and essentially taking their focus off the road. It can be equally distracting when passengers stream video or watch moving content on a mobile device. Our advice is to remove the distraction and don’t stream video when the car is moving on the road.

Hands-free: Nick Lloyd reveals that talking on a hands-free phone doesn’t eliminate the dangers of crashing. Although it removes the biomechanical distraction, it will still cause an auditory and cognitive distraction. Despite this, 36% of the survey respondents admitted to speaking on a hands-free phone while driving.

Pedestrians: Mobile phones can also affect road safety outside the car. Lloyd tells us pedestrians failing “to look properly was the most common contributory factor allocated to pedestrian injuries (59%) in 2014.” He reveals that in a 2014 YouGov survey “31% of those interviewed said that they have been distracted from looking for traffic as they were using their mobile phone.”

How do I avoid mobile phone distraction?

  • Pull over somewhere safe if you need to make or take a call during your journey. Only do this if you really need to though – it’s best to wait until you’ve arrived and parked up safely at your destination.
  • If you must talk using hands free, keep it short and tell them you’ll call them back once you’ve reached your destination.
  • Switch your phone off or silence it and put it away when you get in your car, so you’re not tempted to use it during a journey.
  • If you call someone and realise they’re driving, ask them to call you back once they’ve stopped driving.
  • Although it’s legal to call 999 or 112 in your vehicle, only do so if it’s a real emergency and won’t put yourself and others in more danger by using your phone.

When you hear your phone ring while you’re driving, it can be very tempting to reach over to see who’s calling. But you never know what hazards are around the corner, so it’s never worth taking the risk.

Leaving the phone alone really can save lives.

*Exclusive survey of 1,094 British drivers conducted online by YouGov for Aviva in conjunction with the Telegraph on 7-9 December 2015

Additional sources



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