Drivers using a phone at the wheel has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ in the U.K.

Trevor Mogg
Drivers using a phone at the wheel has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ in the U.K.
Brits really love to use their phones behind the wheel, so suggest the results of a recent survey. An alarming 31 percent of drivers there said they've used a mobile device while in control of a car, up a significant 23 percent on two years ago.

Checking your smartphone while driving is one of the best ways to ensure your destination ends up being the nearest hospital instead of wherever it was you intended to go. Or worse, put an innocent cyclist or pedestrian in the morgue.

But still millions of drivers can’t, it seems, resist a quick peek at their display, or even full-on engagement with their device while hurtling along in their large chunk of motorized metal.

Recent data out of the U.K. suggest that Brits have a real issue with distracted driving, with more than 3 in 10 drivers admitting they use their phone while behind the wheel.

A survey carried out by by automotive services firm RAC revealed that 31 percent of British motorists use a mobile device while driving, up an alarming 23 percent in just two years.

Among the 1,714 drivers questioned in the survey, 19 percent said they’d sent a message or posted on social media (up from 7 percent two years ago), while 14 per cent admitted to snapping a photo or shooting a video.

Of those that admitted to using their phone, 23 percent said it was because of an “emergency” situation, while 21 percent claimed to need information for their journey. A further 12 percent admitted it was simply “a habit.”

Road safety spokesperson Pete Williams said the illegal driving behavior was now at “epidemic proportions,” putting the problem down to people’s growing addiction to smartphones, as well as a reduction in traffic cops that’s led to more drivers thinking they can get away with it.

In the U.K., the law clearly states that it’s illegal to drive a car while using a handheld phone, with culprits facing a fine of between £100 ($132) and £1,000 ($1,320), as well as possible license disqualification.

Related: How common is distracted driving? This agency filmed traffic to find out

The RAC said it’s necessary for the authorities “to step up efforts to shift cultural attitudes, so as to make the use of handheld mobile phones as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.”

The demand comes alongside news reports of a number of incidents in the U.K. where drivers hit and killed other pedestrians and road users while using a mobile phone. Earlier this week a driver was jailed for six years after his truck veered into oncoming traffic before smashing into a car, killing its driver. The truck driver had started using his phone shortly before the crash.

Of course, distracted driving, which can also include other behavior such as eating cereals while driving, is also a major issue in the U.S. Recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that distracted driving was a factor in nearly 3,200 traffic fatalities in 2014 and almost 3,500 in 2015 in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. Of those incidents, mobile phones were the main cause in 476 deaths in 2015, up from 406 a year earlier.