A third of motorists (31%) believe penalties for mobile phone use while driving should provide a greater deterrent, according to a survey conducted by the RAC.
Out of 2,000 UK drivers who responded to the survey, 41% suggested that more visible enforcement of the law would encourage behavioural change, with only 22% believing that harsher punishment was the solution.
One in five (18%) surveyed drivers supported blocking mobile phone signals within cars, with one in ten (10%) believing more public awareness campaigns – such as the Government's 'Think' initiative – would force drivers to adjust.
Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “Our research clearly shows motorists believe the key to ending other drivers’ dangerous handheld phone use is greater enforcement and that tougher penalties are really only part of the answer. This makes sense – despite the increased penalties there remains a hard core of drivers who continue to ignore the law and all the risks associated with handheld phone use.”
The survey showed that up to two-thirds of motorists (65%) were unaware of the consequences for breaking the law which has been in force for 15 years. Tougher penalties for using a handheld phone at the wheel were introduced over a year ago.
Only 36% of respondents correctly stated that current penalties for motorists using a handheld mobile while driving consist of six points on your license and a £200 fine. A quarter (26%) were unaware of the harsher penalties introduced in 2017.
The research comes as Government data suggests a 30% decline in charges brought against motorists for driving while using their mobile phone. Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics for England and Wales show offences dropping to 9,000 in 2017 from 13,000 in the previous year.
The survey also examines the reasons drivers give for stopping – or not stopping – mobile phone use at the wheel.
A large majority of drivers (87%) who continue to use handheld phones suggested that it was something they do only when travelling alone in the car. Out of that group, 78% said they continue despite fear of getting caught. Nearly a quarter (23%) claimed to be able to drive and use a phone safely, with 11% rating the associated road safety risks as 'overstated'.
On the other hand, 31% of surveyed drivers said they had stopped using a handheld phone at the wheel.
A variety of reasons were given: 44% credited road safety campaigns like 'Think' and 'Be Phone Smart'; 36% cited fear of being caught; 34% feared causing an accident, with 12% attributing their change to the tougher penalties announced in September 2016.
While previous RAC research suggests that nine million UK drivers use handheld phones while driving on a habitual basis, the latest data shows related vehicle collisions as a result of mobile phone use rising year-on-year (32 fatal accidents in 2016, up from 22 in 2015).
Williams continued: “Picking up and using a handheld phone while driving is a personal choice that motorists make, albeit a dangerous and illegal one.
“While it is reassuring that a good number of motorists have decided to make a positive choice and stop doing it, there is still much more to be done to make everyone else change their behaviour.”
Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, lead for Roads Policing on the National Police Chiefs' Council, added: “The law surrounding mobile phone use behind the wheel has been widely publicised, and the increase in penalties last year is representative of how prevalent this dangerous practice is.
“However, notwithstanding the legal repercussions, the main thing we want drivers to do is arrive safely at their destinations.
“When you are driving, the priority should be the safety of yourself, your passengers, and your fellow road users. Whatever is happening on your mobile phone can always wait.”