Too many crazy drivers

drive-text The news last week of a woman motorist sent to jail for running down a cyclist while she was sending a text message on her mobile phone is a sobering thought for every driver.

Even though I use a hands-free phone kit when I’m out in my car – either my TomTom or the very neat TalkTool – it always makes me uneasy when receiving a call while driving.

You are distracted, there’s no question about it. So I tend not to use a phone at all in the car unless I’m stationary, eg, in too-often traffic jams especially in London, or parked.

It’s easy not to use the phone in the car – just switch it off!

Yet I often wonder if some people have a real problem with phones and cars.

Even though the penalty in the UK for being caught using a phone while driving – whether talking or texting – is a £60 fine and three penalty points on your license, I still see so many people with a mobile stuck to their ear while driving.

And surely most people would never try and send a text message while driving, unlike the hapless motorist now in jail. She’s not typical surely?

Well, I’m not so sure after reading about a survey carried out by the RAC Foundation among some Facebook users.

Some alarming results:

[…] 45% of UK drivers use short message services (SMS) whilst driving. Only 11% of motorists turn off their phones or switch them to mute – leaving 89% of drivers open to the distractions caused by mobile phones.

Wow. Nearly half the drivers surveyed use their phones for sending text messages while driving.

That is crazy. Where did common sense disappear to?

I’m going to be an even more defensive driver now.

You can read more on the RAC Foundation blog including explanations of the survey and methodology plus the RAC’s view on what needs to be done to address this problem.

Incidentally, the RAC’s survey covered just 2,002 people, hardly feasible to project the results out to the entire UK driving population.

Then again…

(Image source. The one above is flipped.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Computer Consultants Kit


    This is very much so a huge problem on the other side of the pond as well.

    Here in the U.S., there’s no national legislation that prohibits driving while on the cell phone. There’s really not even much local or statewide legislation.

    In South Florida where I live, between non-stop cell phone talking drivers, 16 year old drivers who believe nothing bad will ever happen to them, drivers in their 80’s and 90’s who believe their eyesight, hearing, and reflexes couldn’t possibly be on the decline, and drivers who learned to drive in nations where super-aggressive driving is socially acceptable, just driving to the supermarket can be an adventure.

    I “miss” the days when it used to cost real money to make a long cell phone call.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Joshua Feinberg

  2. Allan Jenkins

    […] 45% of UK drivers use short message services (SMS) whilst driving. Only 11% of motorists turn off their phones or switch them to mute – leaving 89% of drivers open to the distractions caused by mobile phones.

    I’d reckon that tracks usage in Denmark, too. I was nearly rammed from behind today by a driver talking on the phone, consulting a crackberry and doing 140kph. When I got around the lorry I was passing, he was kind enough to flip me the finger as he passed by… a salesman for a kitchen contractor that has now been forever deleted from my list of vendors.

    When I drive, my phone goes into my satchel, and that lives in the trunk when I am driving.


  3. Francis Wooby

    Thanks for posting this, Neville. Poor driving, and specifically it’s elimination, is becoming somewhat of a passion for me.

    Cars have become little universes, and drivers have come to think of themselves as little gods.

    Divorcing people from their sense of entitlement to do whatever they want behind the wheel is a huge challenge in any jurisdiction. Both the carrot and stick approaches have had limited success.

    Cell phones, PDAs, and the like, I believe, are only the latest syptom of a larger, more deeply-rooted problem. Crappy driving and the societal attitudes that foster it have been around longer than the wireless world, I would argue.

    Banning use of these devices while driving is a well intentioned measure, but it little impact because people do not grasp the reasoning behind it.

    They just aren’t seeing outside of a narrow, me-centric perspective, and therefore dismiss the laws as being senseless oppression, money-grabbing exercises by local government, etc.

    From a communications perspective, I sense that the initiative against “dialing and driving” is only one objective of a larger, incomplete strategy that needs to be more fully developed. Until then, the campaign against gizmo distraction is going to keep struggling and floundering in isolation.

  4. neville

    So it’s the same problem everywhere, it seems.

    Good point, Francis, re larger more deeply-rooted problem. Maybe that problem is one of attitude? Until using a phone when driving becomes generally regarded as very anti-social (eg, as drink-driving is today), perhaps we won’t see any broad changes in behaviours.

    Meanwhile, drive defensively!

  5. Chris Marritt

    I posted on a related issue not so long ago. The point I made then was about carcasts – people who phone into podcasts (including the wonderful FIR, I’m afraid) while driving.
    As I see it, a motorist talking to his/her nearest and dearest on the phone is distracting him/her from the road.
    Somebody addressing whole communities of people as they drive must be paying even less attention to their driving.
    It makes me uneasy just listening.

  6. Peter Brill


    As a former team member involved in launching and giving interviews on the RAC Report, I can vouch for the voracity of the data and sample size. Sadly it is an accurate reflection.

    It’s interesting you mention TomTom, etc. The reality is that mobiles are now just one distraction in the car. If I need my satnav, I often find myself fiddling with it to change the volume, update traffic data, re-route, detour, etc.

    My mobile generally uses voice-dial and in-car bluetooth – easy – but finding numbers is a nightmare. And you and I know from personal experience that without that device we probably would have ended up at opposite ends of Berkshire for a recent meeting.

    It ain’t good, but sadly my prediction is it will only get worse and it’s unlikely that campaigning will create the same social ‘taboo’ as drink driving. The reality of being able to effectively police this is limited at best.

  7. neville

    That’s a good (bad) example, Chris. Often wonder when I listen to a listener comment on FIR that’s phoned in from someone in a car – is he or she driving at that moment?

    Peter, thanks for that insight. I think you’re right in that things will get worse. Politicians’ reaction will probably be to increase costs, ie, penalties to combat it. Which might actually not be a bad thing.

    It seems to me that a £60 fine is ridiculously low. Make it £600 and people might start paying attention.

  8. Chris Marritt

    Fair point, Neville, and you’re right, it’s not *always* clear.
    I’m also with you on fines. In fact, I’m probably in a minority of one who thinks that fining more for speeding would be a good “green” tax as well as potentially saving lives, considering how much extra fuel it takes to drive at 80mph rather than 70mph.
    I think we’ve slipped off topic for this blog, though.

  9. Greg

    You are right, there are too many people in this world who spend too much time doing other things while they are driving, and it’s not limited to cell phone use.

    However, the idea of federal or state legislation which makes it illegal (or at least punishable by a fine) for talking on a phone while driving is a bit overkill. I use my phone while in my car on occasion, and it has never caused me an issue.

    If you choose to use a cell phone while driving and it causes an accident, then you should be held accountable for your actions. But legislating away my individual liberties to prevent me from doing something I haven’t done yet is a little problematic.

    Should I not be allowed to drink (non-alcoholic beverages of course) while driving? That is a distraction. Listening to political talk radio can get me kid of fired up, should we ban that too? How about having kids in the car, lord knows that can be distracting.

    All I’m saying is that there are millions of cell phone users who have never had an accident while talking and driving at the same time, why should we be punished (poor word choice, but I have a bit of a synonym block at the moment) for the actions of a few reckless individuals?

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