After the tougher mobile phone penalties of 2017 appeared to result in a reduction in the number of drivers admitting to using a handheld phone, numbers are again increasing, according to new figures revealed in the RAC Report on Motoring.

Across all age groups, a quarter (25%) of drivers – the equivalent of 10m people – admit to illegally making or receiving calls while driving, compared to 24% in 2017. Drivers in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups admit to a range of dangerous activities involving a handheld phone, with nearly half in the younger age group (47%) saying they make or receive calls while driving – up 7% on 2017.

It is not just phone calls that are the problem – more than a third of drivers aged 25-34 (36%) send texts, social media posts or emails while driving, compared to just 16% of drivers in all age groups. In the 35-44 age group, 29% of drivers admit to doing this, up 10% on 2017 and back to the same level as in 2016.

“While the introduction of tougher penalties for handheld phone use at the wheel was absolutely the right thing to do, we fear any benefits have run their course with this data showing illegal use is now rocketing among some groups of drivers,” said RAC Road Safety Spokesperson Pete Williams.

“Following the introduction of stronger penalties in 2017, we saw a promising shift with some drivers changing their behaviour for the better and becoming compliant with the law – indeed recent observational data suggested this was the case. Sadly, that didn’t signal the start of a longer-term trend with drivers now seemingly returning to their old ways and putting themselves and millions of other road users at risk.”

Among all drivers there are also significant increases in the percentage who say they use a handheld phone when they are in control of a vehicle, but not moving – such as when they are at traffic lights or sat in congestion. Four-in-10 (40%) admit to checking social media messages, texts or emails while stationary – up from 38% last year – while a third (33%) say they send and post such messages, up from 29% in 2017. More than a fifth (22%) record videos or take photos while stationary, up from 16% last year.