Van drivers are twice as likely to use a mobile phone at the wheel than car drivers, according to a new UK Government report.

In 2017, 1% of drivers were observed using a handheld mobile phone, compared to 2.1% of van drivers.

The highest proportion of drivers using a handheld mobile phone while driving was among taxi/private hire vehicle drivers (3.3%). However, the higher rate for this category was mostly driven by a higher rate in Scotland, which is based on a relatively small sample.

Released this week, the figures, from a 2017 Department for Transport (DfT) survey, show that handheld mobile phone use while driving has reduced among car drivers compared to the DfT’s last survey, suggesting that this could be linked to the change in mobile phone driving laws, introduced in March 2017.

RAC road safety spokesperson Pete Williams said it was important to recognise that the survey was carried out months after the penalties for using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel were increased. He said it stands to reason that the “fear factor” of the tougher penalties would be greater in the time immediately after they were introduced.

“Anecdotally, we still see too many drivers either talking on their handheld phones or interacting with them,” Williams said. “And perhaps more worryingly, our own research with drivers suggests the problem has far from gone away. As a result we suspect many drivers will be very sceptical of these findings as they don’t reflect what they see on a daily basis.

“As this survey is only carried out every two years we also fear many drivers who might have changed their ways initially due to the increased penalty may have fallen back into their old ways. This isn’t helped by the decline in the number of roads police officers as some drivers aren’t as afraid of being caught breaking motoring laws as they once were.

“It’s also important to remember just how tricky it can be to detect someone using a phone illegally. While some will blatantly drive and hold their phone to their ear, others will be a lot more covert or will only use a handheld phone very briefly – activities which are still dangerous and against the law.”