Campaign appeals to drivers to tune in to road safety and turn off their phones

As charity reveals half a million UK drivers have points for mobile phones and other distractions

18 November 2013

Brake, the road safety charity

A national campaign launched today (18 November) by the charity Brake at the start of Road Safety Week calls on drivers to tune in to road safety, to prevent appalling crashes caused by multi-tasking at the wheel. The campaign appeals to drivers to turn off their phones or put them in the boot, and urges everyone to refuse to speak on the phone to someone who’s driving. It is being launched a decade after hand-held mobiles were banned at the wheel, and coincides with a week-long enforcement campaign.

Brake, and partners Specsavers and Romex, are revealing statistics confirming the extent of driver distraction on UK roads, and its impact on vulnerable road users:

  • More than half a million UK drivers (575,000) have points on their licence for using their mobile phone at the wheel or being otherwise distracted (available by region and postcode). One in 15 (6.5%) of these drivers have six points or more for driving distracted and four in five (78%) are male [1];
  • Six in ten children (62%) report being driven by a driver talking on a phone and nearly eight in 10 (79%) have spotted drivers on mobile phones outside their school or home – suggesting the majority of children are being endangered by drivers for the sake of a call or text [2].

The campaign is being supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who are coordinating a week-long campaign of heightened police enforcement across the country targeting drivers on hand-held phones.

Distraction reduces hazard perception and increases reaction times in a similar way to drink-driving, making drivers much more likely to cause deaths and injuries [3]. Drivers who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves: research shows 98% are unable to divide their time without it affecting performance [4]. Talking on a phone hand-held or hands free, texting, emailing, adjusting sat navs, eating, drinking and smoking are all proven to increase crash risk [5]. More facts about driver distraction below.

New research by distraction expert Dr Amy Guo at Newcastle University highlights the increased risk of turning your car into an extension of the office. It shows the harder you have to concentrate on a task, such as dealing with work-related calls, the slower your reactions. This demonstrates why talking on hands-free is just as risky as hand-held, because it’s concentrating on the conversation that’s the main distraction.

The tune in to road safety campaign is being launched in Road Safety Week by events and demonstrations in schools, universities and town centres across the UK, highlighting the dangers of taking your eyes, hands or mind off the road (see below). It is being supported by families who have suffered the horror of a bereavement or serious injury in a distracted driving crash and want to speak out (see below).

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity: “We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm; more and more of us have smartphones, and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute. While there are enormous benefits to this new technology, it’s also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger. Many people who wouldn't dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific. We’re calling on UK drivers to tune into road safety: turn off your phone or put it in the boot, and never try to multi-task at the wheel. We’re also appealing to everyone to refuse to chat to someone on the phone who’s driving, to help them arrive safely.

“We are also calling on government to do more to tackle driver distraction, by extending the ban to hands-free phones at the wheel, and further upping fines for the potentially deadly offence of driving distracted."

Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill said: “The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world and improving this record remains a top priority for the Government. That is why we have increased fines for using a mobile at the wheel, made it easier for the police to tackle bad driving behaviour and we are looking at how we can improve young driver safety. I welcome Brake’s Road Safety Week initiative which helps raises awareness of the importance of road safety.”

National Policing Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Suzette Davenport said: “As technology has advanced, we’ve seen a change in the behaviour of some drivers who are allowing themselves to become distracted and putting themselves and others at risk. While a phone call may be important for a few minutes, killing or seriously injuring someone has life changing consequences. While most road users are careful, considerate and law-abiding; a minority are not. Too many collisions are caused each year by those who use excessive speed, drive without a seatbelt, drink or drug drive, or are distracted at the wheel. Enforcement and awareness schemes are being carried out by police across the country as part of Road Safety Week, which is an ideal time for drivers to remember the dangers they can face, alongside an opportunity for forces to apprehend those who flout traffic laws.”

Filming, photo and interview opportunities
Eight launch events will kick off the campaign on the morning of Monday 18 November, in universities, colleges and town centres across the UK.

National launch
10.00am, Monday 18 November 2013
WHERE: Conisborough College, Conisborough Crescent, Catford, London SE6 2SE
students will be learning about the science behind distractions from expert Dr Nick Reed and about the consequences from Inspector David Osborne. They will be watching a screening of new Transport for London videos on distractions, and showcasing a film they have created themselves. They will be taking part in a distraction demonstration using a driving simulator, also available for media to use. Students will be posing in gadget masks for photos around a campaign banner. Police will be conducting enforcement checks for drivers on mobile phones outside for media to film.
INTERVIEWS: Brake deputy CE Julie Townsend; Dr Nick Reed, Transport Research Laboratory; injured volunteer Imogen Cauthery and bereaved volunteer Nicci Saunders (details below); Inspector David Osborne, Met Police; vox pops with students.

Other events are happening across the UK, in partnership with local authorities, emergency services, colleges and universities. Find out more or click through to see press releases for each of the regions below:

ScotlandWalesNorthern IrelandNorth West, North East & CumbriaYorkshire, West MidlandsEast MidlandsEast AngliaSouth WestSouthSouth EastLondon, Lincs and Humberside.

Facts on driver distraction

Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do on a regular basis: you're operating a potentially dangerous machine in an unpredictable, public environment so it requires full concentration at all times.

In the United States, death from distracted driving has been increasing and researchers put this down to increases in drivers using smart technology [6]. In the UK Ofcom has warned of increasing levels of smartphone addiction by users who are unable to go without checking their phone for short periods or through the night [7].

It is believed around one in five crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction and drivers who perform a secondary task at the wheel are two to three times as likely to crash [8]. Some very complex tasks, like talking on a phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, increase this risk even more [9].

The effect of talking on a phone on driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain levels of alcohol. Driver reaction times are 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood (the current UK limit) and nearly 50% slower than driving normally and soberly [10].

Other forms of distraction not involving technology also cause risk. If you're eating or drinking at the wheel, you are less able to react; some studies have suggested the risk is as great as when talking on a phone [11].

Heightened emotions such as stress, anger or upset are cognitive distractions that significantly impede your ability to drive safely. The level of distraction depends on the level of distress [12].

Drivers caught using a hand-held phone at the wheel to call or text face a (recently increased) fixed penalty notice of £100 and three points, or may be offered a course instead of taking points. In 2012, more than 10,000 drivers caught using their phone at the wheel took a ‘what’s driving us’ course, instead of opting for points. In some cases drivers may go to court and face disqualification and maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers who cause a crash and kill someone while using a phone could face up to 14 years in prison, as well as the knowledge that someone died because of their decision to use their phone at the wheel.

Read more facts on driver distraction.

Case studies

Joe Wilkins, 39, from Eynsham in Oxfordshire, was killed when cycling in May 2012 by a driver who was eating at the wheel and claims he didn’t spot him. Read more.

Joe’s partner Nicci Saunders is supporting Road Safety Week. She says: “My family has been blown apart. Our two young daughters have to grow up without their dad and me without my soul mate. The girls have been utterly traumatised and still wake in the night crying for their Daddy. I am trying to support them through it, but I miss him terribly too. None of our lives will ever be the same again. Road crashes are avoidable, and Joe’s death could have been prevented so easily by the driver giving his full attention to driving. No one wants to go through what we are going through so I’m asking everyone to help prevent tragedies like this by pledging to tune into road safety and never allowing yourself to be distracted at the wheel. Please remember it doesn’t just happen to other people.”

When Imogen Cauthery, 26, from Crouch End in London, was nine years old she was hit by a driver on a mobile phone. Imogen was in a coma for ten days, and suffers from a life-long brain injury that causes her seizures and memory loss. Read more.

Imogen is supporting Road Safety Week 2013. She said: “When you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, your actions and decisions are critical. And if you don’t respect the power you have, and give driving your full attention, then you could inflict enormous suffering on someone else, or yourself. It’s awful that so many drivers think it’s okay to use their phone at the wheel, when someone could pay the price of their life for that call or text. Please don’t take your licence for granted; tune into road safety and make a commitment to stay focused and never use technology at the wheel.”

Jemma O’Sullivan, 22, was killed in a crash caused by a texting truck driver on M18 near Doncaster in September 2010. Her parents, Vincent and Margaret O'Sullivan, are supporting Road Safety Week. Read more.

Vincent said: “Jemma was a bright and intelligent young woman, who brought nothing but joy to everyone who had the pleasure of meeting her. Our family will never be the same without her; not being able to see Jemma to say goodbye and losing her in this way is something that we will have to deal with for the rest of our lives. It is unbearable to think Jemma was killed for the sake of a text message. We are appealing to all drivers: please don’t kid yourself you can get away with multi-tasking at the wheel. No text, call or other distraction is worth taking someone’s life and inflicting terrible suffering on an innocent family.”

Sponsor quotes

A spokesperson from Romex, says: “We are delighted to be supporting Road Safety Week, and working with Brake to help reduce crashes caused by distracted drivers. At Romex we know educating drivers on the dangers of using your phone at the wheel is vital. Companies can make an enormous difference to the safety of their workforce, and help to prevent devastating crashes, by addressing driver distraction in their fleet. We’re proud to be able to help companies do this, and thrilled to help Brake spread the ‘tune in’ message. If we all get behind this campaign, we can make a huge difference in preventing casualties and making our roads safer places.”

Paul Carroll, director of professional services at Specsavers, says: 'We’re delighted to support Road Safety Week for the second consecutive year in support of Brake’s call for driver’s to tune into road safety and avoid distractions at the wheel. Road Safety Week is particularly relevant to us as we have campaigned for more than 10 years with our Drive Safe message, which calls for all drivers to have regular eye examinations and carry a spare pair of glasses in their car. Specsavers stores nationwide have also donated hi-viz vests to school children and screened motorists’ vision in town centres. We hope that by working with Brake on initiatives such as Road Safety Week we can make the roads safer for all road users and pedestrians.”

Notes for editors

About Brake

Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake’s support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

About Road Safety Week

Road Safety Week is the UK’s flagship event to promote safer road use, coordinated annually by the charity Brake and involving thousands of schools, communities and organisations across the country. Road Safety Week 2013 takes place 18-24 November, with support from the Department for Transport, headline sponsors Romex and Specsavers, plus regional sponsors the Post Office, ARCO, Wilson Nesbitt Solicitors and ARI Fleets.

About Specsavers:

  • Specsavers was founded by Doug and Dame Mary Perkins in 1984 and is now the largest privately owned opticians in the world. The couple still run the company, along with their three children. Their son John is joint managing director
  • Specsavers has more than 1,600 stores throughout the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Australia and New Zealand
  • Total revenue for the Specsavers Group was £1.7 billion in 2011/2012
  • More than 20 million customers used Specsavers globally in 2011/2012. As of end March 2012, Specsavers had 16,138,076 customers in the UK and 928,582 customers in the Republic of Ireland *those who have been on the Specsavers database and active in the past four years
  • Specsavers optical stores and hearing centres are owned and run by joint venture or franchise partners. Together, they offer both optical and hearing services under one roof.
  • Specsavers employs more than 30,000 staff
  • Specsavers was voted Britain’s most trusted brand of opticians for the eleventh year running by the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands survey 2012
  • More than one in three people who wear glasses in the UK buy them from Specsavers* - 10,800,000 glasses were exported from the warehouse to stores in 2011
  • Specsavers was ranked No 1 for both eye tests and glasses in the UK
  • Specsavers sold more than 290 million contact lenses globally in 2011/12 and has more than a million customers on direct debit schemes. Specsavers' own contact lens brand - easyvision - is the most known on the high street
  • The hearcare business in the UK has established itself as the number one high street provider of adult audiology services to the NHS
  • Specsavers supports several UK charities including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Sound Seekers, the road safety charity Brake, the anti-bullying charity Kidscape and Vision Aid Overseas, for whom stores have raised enough funds to build a school of optometry in Zambia and open eyecare outreach clinics in much of the country

About Romex

Romex is an innovative company specialising in mobile workforce management solutions that enable companies to better protect and manage their employees.  By knowing where employees are and where they have been every minute of the working day and both how far and fast they have travelled, customers can improve productivity, efficiency and customer service, and reduce costs, administration and fuel usage.  Companies can also improve the health and safety of employees who drive on business or work alone and comply with legislation.  Our new Driver Distraction Management (DDM) module improves driver safety by preventing employees from making and receiving calls, texting, e-mailing or using social media when driving.  With no additional hardware needed DDM makes company policy on mobile phone use a reality and improves safety without losing productivity by allowing employers to contact employees without distracting them.   

  • Simple to use and quick to implement, Romex solutions turn GPS enabled smartphones in to highly accurate safety andtracking devices.
  • Romex can also help companies comply with health and safety legislation relating to employees who drive on business (INDG382) and Lone Workers (INDG73).
  • These solutions can be used for all employees, including Blue and White Collar workers regardless of how they travel, whether in a company van, their own car (the Grey Fleet), on public transport or even on foot.
  • A free demonstration is available upon registration at
  • Romex World Ltd is part of Citylink Group Ltd, a technology business with 25 years of investment and experience that has built a number of service based businesses and delivered innovative web-based solutions. 

End notes:

[1] Analysis of Freedom of Information requests to the DVLA by Brake in August 2013.

[2] Results of a survey of more than 13,000 children age 7-11 from across the UK by Brake, Romex and Specsavers, conducted May – October 2013. See full results.

[3] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006

[4] Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability, University of Utah, 2010

[5] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006

[6] Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008, University of North Texas, 2010

[7] The Communications Market 2011, Ofcom, 2011

[8] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk: an analysis using the 100-car naturalistic driving study data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006

[9] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005

[10] Using a hands-free mobile whilst driving can be more dangerous than drink driving, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009

[11] Crash dieting: The effects of eating and drinking on driving performance, Brunel University, 2008

[12] Emotionally involving telephone conversations lead to driver error and visual tunnelling, The Open University, 2011