Driver Distractions: What are the most common distractions for UK motorists when on the move?
Worryingly, drivers being distracted by one thing or another is all too commonplace on UK roads every single day, but what are the most likely causes of distraction for UK motorists? We’ve explored this alongside how well UK drivers know the highway code and subsequent driving laws when they get behind the wheel.
The data suggests that millions of Britons have been distracted on the road while driving, from mobile phone use to eating at the wheel. The numbers are worrying as drivers losing attention and not being fully focused on the road can lead to major road accidents.
We recently surveyed 2,000 UK drivers to find out the reasons behind why they have previously found themselves being distracted whilst on the road. Read on to learn more…
What are the most common driving distractions?
According to our findings, the top source of driver distraction for Brits behind the wheel is eating and drinking. Almost half of those we spoke with marked it as their top choice (47%).
The top sources of ‘driver distractions’ for UK motorists
|Top Sources of Driver Distractions
|% of UK drivers who admit to having done this whilst behind the wheel
|Eating / Drinking
|Using my mobile phone
|Smoking / Vaping
|Children messing about
|Pets loose or making noise in car
|Doing my makeup
Next up, and perhaps unsurprisingly in this modern age, is drivers using their mobile phone (20%) when on the road. Although half the number of those who had admitted being distracted by food and drink (47% vs 20%), this still equates to a staggering 8.3 million road users who openly do so.
Vaping is continuing to grow in popularity in 2023, so it comes as no surprise that we learnt one in five (20%) have previously smoked or vaped whilst on the road.
Drivers are commonly distracted by their passengers in the car, especially parents as one in six (17%) are distracted by children messing around.
The same can be said for pet owners, with 17% of drivers being distracted by pets making noise or being loose in the car, the latter also being illegal.
And concerningly, upwards of 600,000 (2%) of motorists have taken the risk of doing their makeup whilst they drive, with Leeds residents found to be the most likely to have done so (3%).
Why do motorists use their mobile phone whilst driving?
We wanted to better understand the 8.3 million motorists who told us they were guilty of illegally using their mobile phone whilst driving and learn more about the circumstances for using it.
When we quizzed the survey participants who had admitted to using the phone behind the wheel on exactly how they’d used it, making and taking calls without hands-free (9%) tops the list of most common reasons for doing so in the past.
We’re hopeful that this number is set to reduce with the number of cars that now have a hands-free system.
|Top Reasons UK Drivers Admit to Having Used their Phone when Behind the Wheel
|% of UK drivers who admit to having done this whilst behind the wheel
|Calling (not via Bluetooth/Handsfree)
|Sorting the Sat Nav
|For work purposes (replying to emails or having video meetings)
|Video calls with friends / family
|Checking social media
|Checking sports scores
|Taking pictures selfies
The second most common mobile phone distraction was texting in the drivers’ seat, 8% have admitted to this, whilst just behind is those that have ‘sorted out their sat nav’ (7%) whilst driving.
Nearly one in 20 (4%) even shared that they had been using their phone to catch up on work tasks such as sending emails or participating in video calls.
Whilst we all know that modern technology can be somewhat addictive for some, worryingly it seems that Brits can’t even drag themselves away from checking social media for the duration of the car journey – over one million drivers (3%) told us they have been distracted this way before.
3% of UK drivers can’t face not knowing the sport scores of their favourite teams, with men over twice as likely to do this compared to women.
The most surprising is that 2% of those who are guilty of mobile phone use, have broken the law to take a selfie whilst at the wheel! The equivalent to 750,000 UK driving licences holders.
When looking at the findings on a generational level, the so-called ‘older millennials’, those aged 25-34 are most likely to use their phone at the wheel. Nearly a third (30%) have previously used their phone whilst driving. Compared to 65+ year olds who rarely use their phone when driving (7%), those aged 25-34 are four times more likely to use their phone at the wheel.
This reaffirms the 2019/20 self-reported mobile phone use while driving Government report that stated three in five (60%) of those aged 25-29 admitted to using their phones whilst driving, the most of any age category.
Despite UK roads prohibiting “phone, sat nav, tablet, or any device that can send or receive data, while driving or riding a motorcycle” and the potential threat of a £2,500 fine, alongside the immense risk of danger to themselves and other road users, it seems Brits are still willing to take the risk when it comes to phone usage.
UK cities most likely to use their mobile phone while driving
Bristol motorists are the most likely to be distracted on by their phone when driving. Over a quarter of drivers (27%) have been guilty of the illegal act, closely followed by those who drive in Cardiff (25%) and London (25%).
Top 5 cities for mobile phone use while driving:
- Bristol (27%)
- Cardiff (25%)
- London (25%)
- Nottingham (21%)
- Leeds (21%)
In comparison, Liverpool (10%) and Newcastle (12%) drivers are the most well-behaved when it comes to mobile phone usage at the wheel, according to the results of our study.
Which driving distractions do UK drivers think are legal?
Getting distracted while driving is never a good thing, but it doesn’t mean that every potential distraction is illegal in the UK at present.
Following the revelations of our survey, we wanted to find out how well UK motorists know the Highway Code, asking them to identify which ‘driver distractions’ they believe to be legal. The results raised concerns about the knowledge of drivers on the road…
The results of our little quiz highlighted that the public’s knowledge on the highway code and driving laws needs some work, as a third (32%) suggested that not a single distraction on the list is legal.
Shockingly, over three million full driving licence holders (7%) think it is legal to stream TV on your phone in the background when driving. A massive one in eight (12%) of Nottingham drivers think this is legal whilst driving.
Driving habits that UK drivers think are legal
|Top Things Brits Believe to be Legal when Driving?
|% of UK drivers who think this
|Paying with your phone wallet at a drive-thru (including a toll)
|Eating / drinking while driving
|Smoking / Vaping while driving
|Flashing your lights to allow other drivers to go
|Driving in flip flops or heels
|Driving with the car interior light on
|Checking your phone at traffic lights
|Swearing at other motorists
|Checking your smartwatch while driving
|Having a dirty number plate
|Splashing a pedestrian while going through a puddle
|Lane hogging on a motorway
|Sleeping in your car while drunk
|Drinking alcohol while driving (if still under the legal limit)
|Throwing decomposable food out the window
|Driving with a flat tyre
|Travelling with a pet that is loose in the car
|Stopping on a double yellow line
|Streaming TV on your phone in the background
|Driving right behind someone who is driving slowly
A previous study we conducted stated that road rage occurs once a month for two-thirds of drivers (65%), but can you swear at another driver?
Although one in eight (12%) motorists believe you can without any repercussion, perhaps unsurprisingly being caught doing this can land you in hot water! Those found guilty of swearing at other road users can actually be handed a maximum fine of £,1000 due to ‘disorderly behaviour’.
And according to our findings, Sheffield drivers need to be extra careful, as nearly a third thought it was legal to swear at fellow drivers (29%).
Driving distractions that are actually legal
One in ten drivers (10%) think it is legal to drink alcohol whilst driving. Shockingly, it seems like they are correct on this one!
According to our research, there is actually no law to stop it if you are under the limit, and it is not causing careless driving. Still, this is not recommended as a police officer would be likely to pull you over if they spotted this occurring.
Three in four (76%) motorists believe that eating and drinking whilst driving is illegal, and four in five (80%) thought smoking and vaping behind the wheel was also prohibited.
While they may be somewhat of a distraction at the wheel, both are in fact legal in the UK at the present time, with no specific law stopping you from doing so, if the driver is still in full control of the vehicle.
The overwhelming majority (86%) of UK drivers believe it is illegal to drive in heels, flip flops or barefoot. However, they are incorrect. This may be a risk with footwear easily getting stuck under the pedal, but if you are operating the vehicle safely it is not deemed as an illegal act.
And finally, nearly three-quarters (73%) believe that paying using your mobile phone via contactless payment in a drive-thru or a toll road is illegal.
Although you are using your phone whilst driving as the engine is still running, the government have made it clear that this is a common misconception, and you won’t be punished if you pay by tapping your phone in the correct way, and that is ensuring the vehicle is stationary.
Fines and penalty points explained for driving distractions
To help educate drivers to become more aware of the potential ramifications of bad driving habits when on the road, we have created a particularly tricky brainteaser to test motorists’ knowledge.
The puzzle challenges you to find the nine driving offences…
*The answers to the brainteaser can be found at the bottom of the page.
Here is a summary list of the common driving distractions that could lead to fines and penalty points on your license:
- Checking Mobile Phone (includes checking smartwatch): Being caught holding a mobile phone, tablet or sat nav can land you with 6 penalty points and a £200 fine or even cost you your license
- Having a dirty number plate: A dirty number plate can hinder the visibility of your registration and you will face a fine of up to £1000
- Splashing a pedestrian with a puddle or running a red light: The penalty you face for running a red light is a £100 fine and three points on your license
- Careless driving (Tailgating, overtaking): These driving offences are classed as ‘careless driving’, which can leave you with £100 fine and three points on your license.
- Swearing at other drivers: The kind of aggressive behaviour that could be construed as “disorderly behaviour” under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Swearing at other motorists could land you with a £1,000 fine if you are handed the maximum penalty
- Driving with a flat tyre: If you are caught driving with a flat tyre, it can lead to a £100 fine and three penalty points
- Throwing food out the window: Throwing anything out the window is seen as littering, even if it is biodegradable, and can see you fined up to £150 for littering
- Pet loose in your car: Pets need to be suitably restrained so they don’t distract the driver or injure themselves or you (Use a seat belt harness or pet carrier) – you could face max fine of £2500 and nine penalty points if charged for driving without due care and attention
- Parking on double yellows: The Highway Code says double yellow lines indicate “a prohibition of waiting at any time even if there are no upright signs.”. Blue badge holders can usually park on single or double for up to three hours – Fines depend on the local council and you will receive a PCN (penalty charge notice) of up to £130.
- Sleeping in your car while drunk: Could be hit with max fine of £2500 and disqualified from driving (road traffic act states could be prosecuted regardless of what you are doing as you are ‘in control’ of the vehicle when over the limit)
- Flashing lights: Highway Code, drivers should only use their headlights to “to let other road users know that you are there” and not to “convey any other message”. – Face £1000 fine
We’ve established that driving distractions are high amongst UK motorists, and even more worrying is that many motorists lack knowledge on important highway code and driving laws, so they are even unsure which acts are legal when driving.
It can be all too easy for motorists to be overconfident in their abilities and believe that they are capable of multi-tasking while driving, but no matter your skill level, it is absolutely essential to have your full attention on the road at all times in the interests of safety.
A big part of our business involves sourcing products such as telematics devices to keep drivers safe, so it’s worrying to see how widespread some driving distractions are on UK roads. Distractions on the road can understandably lead to road accidents, so with this in mind, we’d strongly advise business owners with a fleet to make sure they have the correct motor fleet insurance in place to cover them should things go wrong!
Our sources and methodology
- Survey of 2,000 UK drivers conducted in June 2023. Data split by respondent age, gender and location
Number of UK licence holders used to work out number of drivers:
- https://www.data.gov.uk/dataset/d0be1ed2-9907-4ec4-b552-c048f6aec16a/gb-driving-licence-data = 41.5 million full driving license holders
Information on Highway Code:
- https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/vehicle-maintenance-safety-and-security.html & https://www.gov.uk/displaying-number-plates
- To calculate the number of motorists who have been distracted while driving for certain reasons, we took the number of full driving license holders (41.5million) and calculated that by the percentage of respondents from the survey that had been guilty of being distracted at the wheel for that reason.
- To calculate the number of motorists who have used a phone at the wheel, we applied the 20% of UK drivers who admit to using a mobile phone, to the 41.5m UK licence holders. This shows us that 8.3m drivers have used a phone.
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