One in seven admit texting
More than half of drivers in Northern Ireland have used their mobile phone behind the wheel, a survey has suggested.
Of the 2,805 adults questioned on their driving habits, 52% confessed to using their phone in some capacity behind the wheel, a Department for Infrastructure report found.
This included one in seven people texting while driving (14%) and one in ten (10%) taking a handheld call.
Despite this, the vast majority (91%) of those polled said using a phone behind the wheel made drivers more likely to cause a crash, more likely to be involved in a crash (84%) and less likely to notice danger ahead (82%).
RAC spokesperson Simon Williams said the consequences of being distracted by your phone while driving could be horrific.
"We still hear reports of people using their phone behind the wheel all the time, so things still need to change," he said.
"We need to make using a handheld phone at the wheel, whether that's texting or talking, just as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
"I think mobile phones play such a big part in our lives that's it's hard for some people to leave them alone."
Mr Williams continued: "People would do well to imagine the consequences of something bad happening and use that as motivation to stop doing it.
"People may think looking away for one second is fine, but that's all it takes for something bad to happen."
Other findings in the DfI survey showed a majority (56%) supported the increased use of 20mph zones while 80% said this should be applied outside schools, and 75% backed it for areas where children play.
Nearly half of drivers (44%) admitted to speeding on the motorways, and a quarter on dual carriageways, but this dropped to 4% in built-up areas.
On mobile phone use, just over half (51%) believed they were likely to be stopped by police for using their phone while driving.
Almost three quarters (72%) correctly identified that the police penalty for being caught was a fine plus penalty points.
Over half of those surveyed (55%) said they believed this penalty should be increased.
Chief Inspector Diane Pennington said: "Detecting people using their mobile phones while driving remains a key element of our Road Safety Strategy and is something we continue to focus on.
"Drivers are reminded that not only are there serious risks by being distracted by mobile devices while in control of a vehicle, but also there are penalties and consequences to face for breaking the law."
She added that drivers using a mobile phone are four times more likely to crash. "Absolutely nothing on your mobile device or social media accounts should come before your safety and the safety of others.
"Police will continue to focus on robustly enforcing the law to make Northern Ireland's roads safer.
"All police ask is that drivers slow down, never drive after drinking or taking drugs, wear a seatbelt, drive with greater care and attention and don't use mobile phones while driving," she added.
Davy Jackson is director of the campaign group Road Safe NI.
"We see this every day, you just have to pull up at a set of traffic lights and you constantly see drivers sitting on their phone.
"In England, when you're caught on the phone it's six points and a fine. So you only need to be caught twice to lose your licence.
"In Northern Ireland you only get three points, so we would support that two strikes and you're out system."
Lisburn man Alan Woodside, who is Professor of Civil Engineering at Brunel University, said the survey showed drivers using mobile phones was a "disaster" in Northern Ireland.
"Any distraction is a problem, but people still seem to think it's their right to use their phone while driving," he said.
"Facilities are available for hands-free, so there's no excuse. One thing I think could be used is a signal blocker in cars unless it's coupled up to a hands-free.
"I've seen a prototype and I think that could be very helpful, for young drivers in particular."
PSNI figures showed there were 4,569 detections of mobile phone use between December 2017 and November 2018, which represented a 5.9% drop from the previous year.
Insurance offences remained the highest at 8,503, while speeding offences increased by 16% to 8,061.