Who's putting your life on the line? For a quarter of drivers, it's family

Charity urges drivers to 'have a break, have a quick chat' this bank holiday weekend

Friday 28 August 2015

Brake, the road safety charity

As many people prepare to get away from the demands of modern life by taking day trips and mini-breaks this bank holiday weekend, road safety charity Brake is asking friends and family not to put loved ones' lives at risk by talking to them on the phone while they're driving.

The call comes as a survey by Brake reveals the source of deadly phone distraction for drivers. In the past year:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of drivers have talked to family on the phone while driving.
  • One in seven drivers (15%) have talked to friends on the phone while driving.
  • One in six drivers (17%) have had a work-related call while driving.

The survey shows young drivers (17-24) are most likely to engage in phone calls with friends, family, and employers. In the past year:

  • More than a third (35%) of young drivers have talked to family on the phone while driving.
  • More than two in five young drivers (21%) have talked to friends on the phone while driving.
  • Almost half (49%) of young drivers have had a work-related call while driving.

The figures include both hand-held and hands-free phone calls, as studies have proved both are as dangerous, making you four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury [1]. That's why Brake calls for all phone use, including hands-free, to be banned at the wheel, and appeals to drivers to put their phones on silent and out of reach before getting behind the wheel.

Brake also asked drivers how long they drive without taking a break. Two thirds (67%) admitted driving for more than the recommended two hours, with a quarter (24%) doing so once a month or more. Research has found driving performance deteriorates after this time, as you become less able to concentrate and slower to react to hazards [2].

Brake is advising drivers to take a break for calls, by taking a minimum 15 minutes break at least every two hours, and using those to make calls and respond to messages, as well as resting, rather than putting lives at risk by using a phone at the wheel. Brake is also urging friends, family, employers and colleagues to do their bit and make life easier for drivers by not calling them or continuing phone conversations while they're at the wheel.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "In the modern world, drivers are confronted with many distractions that prevent them from giving the road their full attention, risking devastating crashes and loss of life. It is a sobering thought that a significant number of these life-threatening distractions come from drivers' own friends and family. That's why we're urging people to put their loved ones safety first by refusing to speak to them on the phone while they are driving. Employers, too, have an important responsibility to make sure they are not putting their employees in danger.

"Drivers taking to the road this weekend could also be putting themselves and others at risk by pushing themselves too far without a break. Our appeal to drivers this weekend, and year-round, is take regular breaks, at least every two hours, and use these for calls and to recharge. No call or message is so important that it can't wait until you're safely off the road."

Brake campaigns against dangerous driver distractions, including mobile phones, through its drive smart campaign. Brake also raises awareness of driver tiredness and taking adequate rest breaks through its wake up! campaign. Tweet us: @Brakecharity, #DriveSmart, #WakeUp.

Quick reference facts: mobile phones

  • A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22% of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction [3].
  • Drivers speaking on phones are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury, whether on a hands-free or hand-held phone [4].
  • Hands-free calls cause almost the same level of risk as hand-held [5], as the call itself is the main distraction, not holding the phone. Brain scanning has confirmed that speaking on a hands-free phone makes you less alert and less visually attentive [6].
  • Texting drivers have 35% slower reaction times and poor lane control [7]. One large-scale study found texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention [8].

Quick reference facts: driver tiredness

  • A quarter of crashes on British main roads causing death or serious injury are tiredness-related [9].
  • Crashes caused by drivers falling asleep tend to be high-speed crashes, because drivers do not brake before crashing, so the risk of death or serious injury is high [10].
  • Even if tired drivers don't fall asleep, they still pose a danger. Too little sleep radically affects your ability to drive safely, increasing reaction times, reducing attention, and reducing your ability to control the vehicle [11]. Research suggests driving tired can be as dangerous as drink-driving [12].

Brake's advice: mobile phones and long journeys

  • The only way to totally avoid dangerous distraction from your phone when driving is to switch it off or put it on silent, and put it out of sight and reach.
  • On long journeys, stop for breaks every two hours, and check your messages then. If you need to work or keep in contact on a long journey, you may be better off taking public transport instead.
  • You can help keep other drivers safe by refusing to speak to them on the phone while they're driving. If someone picks up while driving, end the call as quickly as you can. It could save their life.

Brake's calls for government action

Brake calls for a ban on all mobile phone use at the wheel, including hands-free, in line with the evidence that this poses just as much of a crash risk as handheld phone use. This needs to be combined with higher fixed penalty fines than the current £100 – at least £500-£1,000 – and enhanced traffic policing to provide a serious deterrent. Find out more at www.brake.org.uk/drivesmart.

About the survey and full results

These results come from a survey, released today (Thursday 27 August 2015), of 1,000 drivers from across the UK, conducted by independent research company Surveygoo on behalf of Brake.

Q1. In the past 12 months, how often have you driven for two hours or more without taking a break?

  • 34% said never
  • 29% said once or twice a year
  • 16% said about once a month
  • 14% said less than once a month
  • 8% said weekly or more

Q2. In the past 12 months, have you driven while talking on a phone (hand-held or hands-free), and if so, who were you talking to? (tick all that apply)

  • 62% said no (38% among 17-24 year olds)
  • 23% said yes – talking to family (35% among 17-24 year olds)
  • 17% said yes – work-related call (49% among 17-24 year olds)
  • 15% said yes – talking to friends (21% among 17-24 year olds)
  • 4% said yes – other (16% among 17-24 year olds)
  • 3% said yes – ordering goods or speaking to a service provider (12% among 17-24 year olds)


Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Follow Brake on Twitter, Facebook, or The Brake Blog. Follow Julie Townsend on Twitter.

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.

End notes

[1] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005
[2] Sleep-related vehicle accidents: some guides for road safety policies, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2001
[3] The impact of driver inattention on near-crash/crash risk, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006
[4] Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia, 2005
[5] Using a hands-free mobile whilst driving can be more dangerous than drink driving, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009
[6] Speaking on a hands-free phone while driving makes you less alert and less attentive, University of Toronto, 2013
[7] The effect of text messaging on driver behaviour: a simulator study, Transport Research Laboratory, 2008
[8] Driver Distraction in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operations, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2009
[9] Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001), Department for Transport, 2004
[10] The relationship between driver fatigue and rules limiting hours of driving and work, Transport Research Laboratory, 2009
[11] Exploratory study of fatigue in light and short haul transport drivers in NSW, Australia, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2008
[12] Long nightly driving comparable to drunk driving, Utrecht University, 2011