A new survey by Brake, the British road safety charity, and Direct Line reveals that around half of drivers aged between 25 and 34 are taking huge risks by texting, using apps or going online on their mobiles when they are behind the wheel.
More than half (55%) of 25-34 year old drivers questioned admitted that they had sent or read a text message on their mobile, while behind the wheel of their car, in the last year.
Despite it being illegal in the UK to use a hand-held mobile phone at all while driving, more than four in 10 (42%) revealed they send or read messages at least once a week.
One in five young driver
s (18-24) confirmed they regularly text and/or instant message when they are behind the wheel.
Just under half of drivers (49%) aged 25-34 admitted they sometimes go online or use apps (other than sat nav apps) while driving. Almost a third of drivers in that age group said they do that several times a week at least.
Driving, of course, is a highly unpredictable and risky activity, so it requires full concentration at all times. Drivers who divide their attention between their phone and the road are significantly increasing their risk of causing a devastating crash.
Reading and writing messages – whether texting, emailing or using apps or social networks – while driving is even more distracting than talking on a phone, as it takes your mind, hands and eyes off the road. According to a simulator study conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2008, texting drivers’ reaction times are 35% slower and they also have poor lane control. One large-scale study found that texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention.
Reaching for a mobile phone can be an irresistible temptation for some, despite knowledge of the risks. In the UK, experts have warned of increasing levels of smartphone addiction by users who are unable to go without checking their phone for short periods or through the night.
A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22% of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction. It also showed that drivers who perform a secondary task while at the wheel are two to three times more likely to crash.
Many drivers allow themselves to be distracted because they believe they are in control, and do not believe distraction poses a significant risk. However, research shows that drivers are not able to correctly estimate how distracted they are and 98% are not able to divide their attention without a significant deterioration in driving performance.
The consequences can be devastating: a 42 year old teacher, and mother of two, Zoe Carvin was killed when a 26-year-old lorry driver ploughed into a queue of traffic because he was reading a text message. Her husband Paul Carvin said: “When Zoe died it wasn’t as if she had cancer that couldn’t be cured, it was because someone did something stupid.
It was such a pointless death. Her death affected hundreds of lives. Two children have been brought up without a mother, 30 children lost their teacher, a driver has been jailed for three years; his life will never be the same either. My daughter recently got engaged and is planning a wedding without her mum. Family members have suffered with depression; it affects us every single day.
“I recently saw a young woman texting with two small children in the car swerving all over the road obviously not in control of her vehicle. If she only knew what it would feel like for them to grow up without her, or for her to live without them. Crashes like this devastate families. They are entirely preventable.”
Alice Bailey, campaigns and communications adviser for Brake, said: “Younger drivers, especially those aged between 25 and 34, simply aren’t getting the message about the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving. Doing any other complex task while driving hugely increases your chance of crashing. We’ve seen recent examples of drivers who have crashed while trying to play games like Pokémon Go or posting Snapchat images while behind the wheel.
“These drivers are putting their own and other people’s lives in grave danger by taking this risk. If a phone has to be used as a sat nav, it must be programmed before setting off on the journey and properly secured. There is no other acceptable way to use a phone while driving.”
Rob Miles, director of car insurance at Direct Line said: “Reading a text message is not a matter of life and death but taking your eyes off the road could well be. It’s simple – wait until your journey is finished or you are safely parked somewhere before you use your phone.”