Texting and emailing at the wheel, and an overreliance on sat navs may be the reasons behind a recent increase in serious road accidents.
A rise in road accidents could be the result of increasing use of in-car gadgets and technology, experts suggest.
Figures from the Department for Transport show the number of casualties resulting from traffic accidents in the 12 months up to last September was up 5%, with a 4% increase in those killed or seriously injured.
Driven to distraction
And research carried out by used-car marketplace BCA indicates that the number of drivers reported to be distracted by devices such as smartphones and sat nav systems is on the rise.
The BCA survey said found that 95% of road users had seen other motorists using a handheld mobile phone while more than 80% had witnessed drivers using their phones to send text messages or emails.
One in five said they had seen someone taking a picture while at the wheel.
Those surveyed also admitted wrongdoing of their own: more than 40% said they had made a call on a handheld phone while driving, and more than a quarter confessed to having written texts or emails.
'Politicians must act'
"BCA’s research reinforces other expert opinion that in-car technology is distracting drivers and at least contributing to the rise in road traffic accidents," said Tim Naylor, editor of the BCA Used Car Market Report.
The RAC’s Pete Williams said that the DfT road accident figures should force politicians to act.
"The RAC has highlighted the lack of focus that the current government has shown to road safety, but this is surely the wake-up call that is needed to give the topic the attention and resources it deserves," Williams said.
"In the run-up to the May election the RAC is calling on all parties to make road safety and road safety education a priority in their manifestos."
'Texting as bad as drink-driving'
Williams added there was an "urgent need" for high-profile campaigns to stamp out the most dangerous driving behaviours such as using a phone or texting while at the wheel.
Jeanette Miller, a motoring lawyer with Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, said that texting or emailing while driving was particularly dangerous.
"There is research to suggest that texting while driving reduces reaction times to the equivalent of being three times over the drink-drive limit," she said.
"But many people disregard this risk: the psychology behind this needs to be further explored by the police as clearly the penalties in place do not serve as a strong enough deterrent."
Should you report offenders?
Miller added that motorists were generally aware that the law prohibited the use of a handheld mobile phone.
"But the law specifies the use of any 'interactive communication device', which includes using your phone as a sat nav, sat nav devices themselves, laptops, and tablets."
She said: "If you have to touch your device to operate it and take your hand off the wheel while driving, arguably this is committing an offence. However, people using sat nav and not touching controls while driving should be safe from prosecution."
Miller suggested that anyone who witnessed another driver using their phone illegally could report the matter to the police on the non-emergency 101 number rather than 999.
"However, I am not convinced the police will follow up on such reports other than perhaps to issue a warning, due to evidential problems in pursuing the offending motorist."
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Our cautionary video shows the potential danger of using your smartphone at the wheel.