14 Distracted Driving Facts & Statistics in the UK (Updated in 2023)
Note: This article’s statistics come from third-party sources and do not represent the opinions of this website.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of accidents occur on UK roads, and one major cause of these accidents is distracted driving. The most common cause of distracted driving is the driver using a mobile phone. Other causes of distraction include reading newspapers or other printed materials, fiddling with the sat nav or in-car infotainment system, eating and drinking, or even smoking and vaping.
While few of these activities are specifically against the law, it is possible for drivers to be prosecuted if it can be proven that they were distracted from driving. And using a handheld mobile phone does carry a fine of up to £200 and six penalty points.
Below are 14 statistics related to distracted driving in the UK, including the types and the levels of distraction they cause.
Top 14 Distracted Driving Facts & Statistics in the UK
- Approximately 25,000 people are killed or suffer serious injuries in road accidents every year.
- Approximately 2,500 accidents a year are caused by a distraction inside the vehicle.
- 1% of all drivers use a mobile phone while driving.
- 11 million UK motorists admit to using a mobile phone while driving.
- 16% of drivers have admitted to texting or messaging while driving.
- 3% of drivers say they text or message every time they drive.
- 90% of people think messaging or texting is very distracting to driving.
- Using a hands-free phone reduces reaction time to 30% slower than at the drink-drive limit.
- The number of car drivers using mobile phones while driving is half that of 2003.
- HGV drivers are the most likely to use a handheld mobile device while driving.
- Young drivers aged 25–34 are almost twice as likely to use a mobile phone while driving.
- As well as mobile phones, distractions inside the vehicle can include infotainment systems, satellite navigation systems, and headphone use.
- Personal grooming makes a driver three times more likely to be involved in a collision.
- Reading newspapers, magazines, and other printed materials makes a collision three times more likely.
1. Approximately 25,000 people are killed or suffer serious injuries in road accidents every year.
(UK Government 1)
Although the number did drop significantly during the Covid lockdowns, approximately 25,000 are killed or suffer serious injuries on UK roads every year as a result of accidents. While this does include other causes of accidents such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, distracted driving is a major contributing cause of road accidents. Serious injuries are those that have a long-term negative effect on the sufferer.
2. Approximately 2,500 accidents a year are caused by a distraction inside the vehicle.
In 2019, which was the last full year of statistics before Covid struck, 2,563 road accidents occurred with “distraction inside vehicle” being listed as one of the factors that led to the accident. According to figures, 65 of those accidents were fatal, which means that at least one person died as a result of the accident.
Mobile Phone Use
3. 1% of all drivers use a mobile phone while driving.
(UK Government 2)
The single biggest and most dangerous distraction for drivers is that of the mobile phone. Police watched vehicles on roads across the country and found that, across all drivers and all vehicle types, 1% of all drivers were using a handheld mobile phone. The use of handheld mobile phones is illegal and carries up to six penalty points and a maximum fine of £200.
4. 11 million UK motorists admit to using a mobile phone while driving.
The use of mobile phones while driving was outlawed in 2003, and since then, the law has been updated and numerous public information campaigns have been launched to inform drivers of the laws and the possible consequences of using a mobile while driving. Despite this, when asked, 11 million UK motorists admit to having used or at least occasionally using a mobile phone while behind the wheel.
5. 16% of drivers have admitted to texting or messaging while driving.
Speaking on a mobile phone is considered distracting and dangerous, but more dangerous is the act of texting or messaging. It takes a lot more attention to compose or even read a message than it does to talk, and this takes the driver’s attention away from the road ahead and around them. There were 16% of drivers in one survey that said that they have texted or messaged while driving.
6. 3% of drivers say they text or message every time they drive.
In the same survey, respondents said that they text or message every time they get behind the wheel. At those rates, this means that approximately a million drivers admit to being badly distracted whenever they get behind the wheel of a car.
7. 90% of people think messaging or texting is very distracting to driving.
When asked how distracting they thought texting and messaging were, 90% of drivers asked said that they believe it is very distracting, while 6% said they thought it is slightly distracting and 4% said they do not believe it is distracting at all.
In the same survey, 77% of people said that they thought using a handheld mobile phone for a telephone conversation was very distracting compared to 18% who said it is mildly distracting and 5% who said it is not distracting at all.
8. Using a hands-free phone reduces reaction time to 30% slower than at the drink-drive limit.
Using a hands-free mobile device to have a phone conversation is not specifically against the law, although it is still possible to be prosecuted if it can be proven that the driver was distracted and their driving impaired. Even though it isn’t illegal, research shows that the reaction time of a person talking in this way is 30% lower than a person at the drink-driving limit.
9. The number of car drivers using mobile phones while driving is half that of 2003.
(UK Government 2)
There have been a number of awareness campaigns and changes in legislation since laws prohibiting the use of handheld mobile devices were introduced. Every time such a campaign or change occurs, the number of drivers using mobile devices drops before rising again.
In December 2003, when the rules were introduced, 1.8% of car drivers used a handheld mobile while driving. In October 2020, the figure was 0.8%. The lowest the rate has been was 0.6% in October 2017, just after the penalty was increased from three points to six points and the fine increased from £100 to £200.
10. HGV drivers are the most likely to use a handheld mobile device while driving.
(UK Government 2)
Alarmingly, Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers are the most likely to use a handheld mobile device. About 2.2% of HGV drivers use a mobile phone compared to 1.9% of van drivers and 0.8% of car drivers. These rates include phone-to-hand and phone-to-ear, which means texting or calling.
11. Young drivers aged 25–34 are almost twice as likely to use a mobile phone while driving.
About 47% of 25–34-year-old drivers say that they speak to people on their mobile phones while driving. This is nearly double the 25% seen across all age groups, with 36% of 24–34-year-olds saying they text, message, or post to social media while driving, compared to 16% of all ages.
Although mobile phones are considered the biggest distraction for drivers, there are other activities and items that can also cause a driver to become distracted. For example, headphones might seem innocuous, but they can reduce reaction time. Other distractions include touch-screen infotainment systems and satellite navigation systems. Again, the use of these devices is not, strictly speaking, illegal, but if they cause a driver to become distracted, this could lead to penalties and prosecution.
13. Personal grooming makes a driver three times more likely to be involved in a collision.
Personal grooming includes the application of makeup, brushing hair, and other activities, and it usually involves looking in the mirror rather than concentrating on the road. According to research, these personal grooming activities mean that a person is three times more likely to be involved in an accident than if they were concentrating on the road.
14. Reading newspapers, magazines, and other printed materials makes a collision three times more likely.
Similarly, reading printed material like newspapers, magazines, or even maps, takes the driver’s attention away from what is happening on the road and a driver engaging in this activity is also three times more likely to be involved in a collision.
What are the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving?
Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal, and if a driver is caught using a handheld mobile while in control of a vehicle, they can face a fine of up to £200 and six points on their license. The act of using the phone is illegal and it doesn’t need to result in an accident for these penalties to be levied.
When did it become illegal to use a mobile phone while driving?
In 2003, calling or texting with a mobile phone in hand was made illegal. However, the law did not cover activities like social media posting or even playing games, so it has changed and been updated over the years. As of 2023, it is illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving.
Is hands-free illegal?
Hands-free is not specifically illegal. You must not hold the phone at any time, but you can use Bluetooth commands or a hands-free headset to speak or send messages. However, if the police believe you are being distracted from driving as a result of using hands-free, you can still be stopped and penalised.
How many accidents are caused by distracted driving?
Distracted driving, in its many guises, is dangerous and does cause accidents. According to some studies, distracted driving is responsible for 62% of all accidents on the road. (Exchange and Mart)
What counts as a distraction?
Holding a mobile phone counts as a distraction and is illegal. Using a hands-free device may be considered a distraction in some cases. Similarly, other activities that might be considered a distraction include eating or drinking, using a device like a navigation system, playing with the radio controls, and even smoking and vaping. Distractions caused by passengers are said to cause 5% of all distracted driving accidents.
Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents on UK roads, with some estimates suggesting that it is responsible for more than 60% of all accidents. Mobile phone use is considered the biggest distraction, but other possible causes include the use of sat nav or in-car infotainment systems and even eating and drinking while driving.
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