/ Motoring, Technology

Status update: using Twitter while driving is #bonkers

Girl using mobile in car

It looks like the temptation to tweet or update your status is too much for some drivers – many now use their mobile phones to access Facebook and Twitter behind the wheel. Are they mad?

Social networking sites have arguably been the biggest phenomenon of the last five years – it was even revealed last week that Facebook is now more popular than porn in the UK.

However, this popularity has come with an undesirable consequence. Devon and Cornwall Police have found that more and more drivers are checking their Facebook status’ and Twitter news feeds on their mobiles, rather than texting or making phone calls.

The dangers in doing this are obvious – just like chatting on your mobile, visiting a social network means you’re not fully concentrating on the road.

Mobile phone usage in cars

It’s not like laws against using handheld devices behind the wheel haven’t been heavily promoted. It’s been illegal to use mobiles while driving since December 2003. And in 2006 the penalty for being caught doing this went up to £60 and three points on your licence. Plus, there have been numerous advertisements and roadside warnings publicising these consequences.

However, with social networking on the rise, road traffic officers now have a new problem to conquer. Just about every new handset can go online, making the temptation to tweet almost unbearable for some, even when they’re out on the road.

Eight in ten motorists use phones while driving

The statistics for mobile phone use behind the wheel is nothing short of tragic. GoodMobilePhones.co.uk recently surveyed 1,859 motorists and discovered 81% admitted to using their mobile behind the wheel. A third said they checked emails while driving, with a quarter admitting to accessing Twitter or Facebook.

From these findings, it’s blaringly clear that current measures to stop phone usage behind the wheel aren’t working. So does this mean that the government should impose more harsh and widespread restrictions on using mobiles in cars? Or should mobile phone networks and manufacturers take some of the responsibility as well?


I use my phone in the car but only when parked. I regularly see those 81% using their phones on the move. They should be banned from driving for a minimum of a year and have 9 points on their licence when caught, making the roads so much more pleasant for the rest of us to drive.

There is no point in having rules that are disregarded by a large proportion of motorists, so we should get rid of the rule or take action.

Perhaps the answer is to encourage other motorists to report the registration numbers of cars in which drivers are spotted on the phone. If there are multiple reports, action can be taken.

I favour fines rather than points on the licence. Disqualified drivers cannot get insurance and then there is the danger of having uninsured drivers on the roads.

It would need a little market research to decide an appropriate fine. A £60 fine could be seen as a mere operating expense for someone in business, but a worthwhile deterrent for others. For repeat offenders I would favour impounding the vehicle for a period and charging storage fees. Having disqualified and uninsured drivers on the road must be avoided at all costs.

The big problem is that many of the 81% who use their phone when driving must think that this is safe, or safe in some circumstances, in the same way that many of us will go a bit above the speed limit when we consider it safe to do so. It is easy to argue that using a phone could be less distracting than a sceaming baby, a child in a tantrum or having an argument with a passenger. None of these are banned.

Systems to detect phone use in the car might work but could be defeated, and it would take years to make them compulsory. A better solution might be to use the cameras that take photos of vehicles based on registration number. If a driver has been reported for using a phone then the cameras could produce the evidence.

I confess to having occasionally (maybe once a year) replied to a phone call with a message such as “I can’t talk now” while driving. I wonder whether I would have counted as a phone user.

Denis Hanbury says:
25 March 2011

I agree that the number of penalty points should rise and should include a ban – which could come into force by a totting up procedure as for points gained in other ways. The fine should be much stiffer – say £500. I have reported to their employers a female driver of a very large articulated lorry who was on the (hand-held) phone while indicating, negotiating a right-turn at a roundabout, changing gear and steering as she approached me – and a male bus driver who was texting while crossing a mini roundabout, with several passengers on his bus, thus giving him the opportunity to kill not only his passengers, but also pedestrians. I would like to see more frequent publicity and news items on the television about this issue – especially highlighting the deaths caused by phone-using motorists. I believe that only offenders actually seen by the police can be prosecuted, but if evidence from the public is acceptable, I would be happy to devote some time with a video camera at a busy roundabout to supply evidence to the police. From my observations, it wouldn’t take very long to record large numbers of people on their phones!

Icsyt says:
30 March 2011

I and my husband are still recovering from a car collision in October 2009 caused by a 17 year old van driver who apparently ‘didn’t see us’. We were in a V8 Silver Jaguar Saloon on a bright sunny day on a straight road, STATIONARY, in a line of traffic! The car was a write-off as the chassis was bent. He must have been travelling at 45 to 50 mph as he crashed us into the lorry in front and then re-bounded into our car. Our friends in the back were severely injured, we were all traumatised and thank God we were in the Jaguar, because if we had been in our Mazda 2, I would not be here writing this. He was obviously texting on his mobile. How can we stop people doing this? £60 is not enough. This guy has cost us thousands and has got away with a small fine and 4 points on his licence. Just not good enough!!

Steve says:
30 March 2011

“The statistics for mobile phone use behind the wheel is nothing short of tragic. GoodMobilePhones.co.uk recently surveyed 1,859 motorists and discovered 81% admitted to using their mobile behind the wheel. ”

Did the statistics say how many of those on the phone were hands free? And therefore legal?

I use the phone in the car, mainly for traffic updates, but in its hands free cradle.

Is this any more dangerous than listening to talk radio or holding a conversation with a passenger?

But texting or things like Twitter are totally bonkers and anybody caught should have a very severe punishment, like confiscation of phone and car for a first offence. Those could then be sold off to help reduce the national debt.

Second offence should have a Swiss style fine added on – the more you are worth, the bigger your fine.

And anybody who does something as happened to Icsyt should as a minimum get a year in jail and have to re-take their driving test before being allowed back on the road.

VH. says:
30 March 2011

I don’t believe that the 81% figure is correct – that is from a survey of mobile phone enthusiasts, and must be an exaggerated figure. But it continues to dismay me that so many people are still doing it and getting away with it. In fact seeing somebody doing it makes me just about as angry as anything that I can thin of. It surely cannot be beyond today’s technology to actually prevent in-car mobile phone usage unless the phone is plugged into a proper hands-free system, but there apparently is no great inclination on the part of anyone to do this. Driving bans are the only way to stop it. Most people get away with being spotted, and any major driving errors. But a few serious injuries and deaths every year are down to using mobile phones when driving, and not everyone (including me) can multi-task well enough to do it even hands-free without it affecting their driving!

Tony says:
1 April 2011

I suggest the seizure and destruction of the phone would be an appropriate penalty. Forget the cost – the sheer inconvenience would deter most people from offending – and it would hit the phone addicts hardest.

Michael London says:
7 May 2011

Anybody who takes their eyes off the road to read or write a text is an idiot, Definately a ban and immeditate confiscation of the mobile phone by attending officer. Also i think a site should be set up for people to be able to send a photo and car reg to the police for later follow up.

Alex says:
31 July 2011

The ironic thing is, when you are driving and see this sort of behaviour, the only way to get conclusive evidence in the moment is – you guessed it, to take a picture with your phone.

I saw a drunk driver all over the road the other night but could not report it to the police because I had no hands free kit in the car and my memory is rubbish so pulling over was not an option.

The laws about distracted driving are getting very grey. It’s ok to press buttons on a GPS but not send a text? What if your phone is windscreen mounted? What’s the difference? With phones, PDAs, laptops, cameras, GPS units all merging together, where’s the differentiation?

Why is it ok to glance at a GPS map on a GPS screen but not on a laptop?

these drivers are obviously unaware that some are serving lengthy PRISON sentences for this – some are young women.

this is the same as drunk driving.

road accidents WRECK peoples lives.

perhaps the only way is to disable the phone if doing over 5mph – the technolgy is here now.