Mid adult woman dialing on mobile phone while driving

Despite the use of a handheld mobile phone while driving being illegal for over ten years, motorists are still displaying a shocking level of ignorance over their use at the wheel, new research by the RAC has revealed.

Since 2003, it has been illegal for drivers to use a handheld mobile phone for any purpose, but a staggering 61 per cent of motorists believe that it's perfectly fine to send text messages as long as the car is stationary.

Even more worryingly, over one in ten drivers (12 per cent) believe that the prohibition on handheld phones is exclusive to making and receiving calls, and think that sending text messages while driving isn't against the law.

Unbelievably, 21 per cent of those surveyed thought that the law did not apply if they were only using their phone to check and update their social media profiles.

Media coverage of last year's ban on tailgating and middle lane-hogging seem to have raised awareness of the latest additions to the statute books to affect drivers, but even so, over 40 per cent of drivers remained blissfully unaware such anti-social behaviour had been outlawed.

Despite the longstanding ban on mobile phone use, it appears to be prevalent amongst drivers, with 29 per cent of survey respondents saying that they regularly see someone texting in stationary traffic. This pales in comparison to using a phone for calls while driving, something three-quarters of motorists say they see others do on a regular basis.

Unsurprisingly, though, drivers are less likely to admit to their own motoring indiscretions. Just eight per cent of respondents admitted to using a handheld phone while driving. Younger drivers are also four times more likely to use their phone at the wheel, compared to drivers who have held their licences for over 25 years.

This flagrant disregard for the law could have its root in drivers' perceptions over the risk of using a mobile phone on the road, with only 53 per cent being strongly in disagreement with the notion that it is safe to use a phone while sat stationary in traffic.

Drivers are also seemingly unconcerned about being caught for mobile phone use, with over half believing they were unlikely to be found out if using one while stationary.

RAC technical director David Bizley said: "The distraction caused by hand-held mobile phones ranks alongside the cost of fuel and the state of the roads as a major worry for motorists. Over a third worry about other drivers being distracted by talking on mobile phones while at the wheel. And, it is the older generation who are most concerned about this with half of motorists aged 65 or over voicing discontent – a nine per cent increase compared to 12 months ago."

"While the law is clear it seems that motorists regard using a mobile phone while stationary at traffic lights or when stationary in congestion as more socially acceptable and less dangerous than using their hand-held phones while on the move. They forget, for example, that when concentrating on their phone, a cyclist may pull up beside or just ahead of them and they may pull away, totally unaware of the cyclist's presence."

Under current legislation it is illegal to use any form of handheld communications device when driving, which includes any point at which the engine is switched on, even when stationary.