The illegal use of handheld mobile phones is at epidemic proportions with an estimated 11 million* motorists admitting to making or receiving a call while driving in the last 12 months and a shocking five million** saying they have taken photos or videos while at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

Research for the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2016 has revealed that, for some, attitudes towards handheld mobile use have worryingly relaxed over the last two years. The proportion of people who feel it is acceptable to take a quick call on a handheld phone has doubled from 7 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2016 and the percentage of drivers who feel it is safe to check social media on their phone when in stationary traffic, either at traffic lights or in congestion, has increased from 14 per cent in 2014 to 20 per cent in 2016. The percentage of drivers who said it was not acceptable to take a quick call at the wheel has correspondingly fallen 6 per cent from 84 per cent in 2014 to 78 per cent today.

And it is not just attitudes that are shifting – actual behaviours are changing significantly too with the percentage of drivers who admit to having used a handheld mobile phone while driving having shot up to 31 per cent which compares with just 8 per cent who were prepared to admit this in 2014.

Similarly, the proportion of drivers who ‘own up’ to sending a text, email or posting on social media has risen to 19 per cent today compared to seven per cent just two years ago.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the number of drivers who admit to taking photographs and videos with their phones. A shocking 14 per cent said they had done so while driving and 22 per cent admitted they have done so when in stationary traffic. The percentages rocket for younger drivers with 36 per cent aged 17 to 24 admitting to taking photos or videos when driving and 44 per cent when stationary and 26 per cent of drivers aged 25 to 44 saying they take photos or video when driving and 31 per cent when stationary in traffic.

The RAC’s 2016 Report on Motoring reveals that two-fifths (41 per cent) of motorists rank the use of handheld phones by other drivers at the wheel as one of their top four concerns, making it the nation’s biggest motoring angst of 2016.

The survey of over 1,714 UK motorists, now in its 28th year, starkly reveals a perplexing paradox: motorists express frustration with other drivers using a handheld phone and say it is their number-one concern in this year’s report, despite half (49 per cent) of drivers admitting to using their handheld phone at the wheel in stationary traffic during the last 12 months, and a third (31 per cent) who said they have used a handheld phone to make or receive a call while actually driving. Both actions are illegal with the current penalty of a minimum £100 fine and three points on your licence.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “There is clear evidence that the illegal use of handheld phones by drivers to talk, text, tweet, post, browse and even video call is, if anything, on the increase. It is alarming to see that some drivers have clearly relaxed their attitudes to the risks associated with this behaviour but more worryingly is the increase in the percentage of motorists who actually admit to using a handheld device when driving. The fact that drivers have little or no confidence that they will be caught when breaking these laws is a likely contributor to the problem and it is sadly the case that every day most road users see other drivers brazenly using their handheld phones when in control of a vehicle – a sight which should be a thing of the past.

“The use of handheld mobile phones is the biggest road safety concern among motorists today, and while the Government is progressing the introduction of stiffer penalties, we call on all stakeholders to step up efforts to shift cultural attitudes and make the use of handheld mobiles phones as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

“With compliance on some traffic laws including the use of handheld mobile phones seemingly getting worse, the RAC calls for an end to cuts to dedicated roads policing and urges the Government and chief constables to give greater priority to enforcement of road traffic laws.

“The RAC is also calling on the Government to invest in a high profile awareness campaign to highlight the danger of using a handheld phone at the wheel and to drive home the message that it simply won’t be tolerated.”

* 31 per cent of motorists admitted using a handheld mobile phone to make or receive a call while driving in the last 12 months. 38 million registered UK drivers x 31 per cent = 11.78 million.

** 14 per cent of motorists admitted taking photos / videos while driving. 38 million registered drivers x 14 per cent = 5.32million.