Seatbelt and Mobile Phone Usage Survey Scotland, 2014

1. Introduction

This bulletin presents the Scottish findings of a survey carried out jointly by Transport Scotland and the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2014 to provide evidence on seatbelt compliance amongst vehicle occupants and mobile phone use by drivers. Data were collected at a range of sites across Scotland and England, and this is the first survey to present representative estimates on both mobile phone and seatbelt use in Scotland.

Seatbelt compliance studies were carried out in Scotland in 1997 and 2002. Between 1989 and 2009, DfT commissioned a series of surveys to provide estimates of seatbelt compliance amongst vehicle occupants, with mobile phone use by drivers also included from 2002.

However, these studies focused on sites in England, only including sites in Scotland for the seatbelt element in 2009. Thus, the current survey not only satisfies the need for more up-to-date evidence but also provides more information on compliance in Scotland than has been available previously.

1.1 The Law

Road safety law in regards to seatbelt and mobile phone use is a reserved matter. Under current law, with limited exceptions, vehicle occupants must wear a seatbelt if one is fitted in the seat being used or face a fine of up to £500[1].

In addition, since 2003, it has been illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device whilst driving or riding a motorcycle, including when stopped at traffic lights or queued in traffic. Hand-held mobile phone use by drivers attracts an automatic fixed penalty notice of 3 licence penalty points and a fine of £100, but can potentially result in more severe penalties depending on the circumstances[2].

1.2 Existing Research

Research shows the important role seatbelts can play in reducing the extent and severity of injuries. Indeed, a report published by the DfT in 2008 estimated that seatbelts have the potential to reduce fatal injuries to both front and rear seat occupants by as much as 50%[3]. Furthermore, it is important for all vehicle occupants to make use of an appropriate restraint as one individual not using a seatbelt can pose a fatal danger to other occupants should a collision occur[4]. As such, whilst seatbelts have no bearing on crash risk, the European Transport Safety Council have suggested that encouraging 100% seatbelt compliance is the single most effective way of reducing the severity of injuries associated with collisions[5].

Research on mobile phone use and driving shows that the cognitive, physical and visual distraction caused by such activity significantly reduces awareness and focus, thus directly affecting the likelihood of being involved in a collision. Whilst it is difficult to specify the exact increased crash risk caused by mobile phone use, some reports have suggested that drivers may be up to four times more likely to be involved in a road traffic accident when using a mobile phone[6].

Other studies have shown that the reaction times associated with drivers using mobile phones are higher than those related to driving at the previous drink-drive level of 80mg per 100ml of blood. For instance, a report published by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2011[7] found that using a hand-held phone increased reaction times by 37.4% whilst texting, 37.6% whilst using social networking sites, and 45.9% when making a call, compared to control conditions of no distraction. In contrast, being at the previous legal alcohol limit resulted in a 12.5% increase in reaction times[8].

However, despite the well-established importance of complying with these road safety regulations (and the fact that there are penalties in place to tackle such behaviour), self-reported studies continue to suggest that non-compliance with seatbelt and mobile phone laws are commonplace. For instance, a recent wave of a longitudinal study examining attitudes to road safety in Scotland found that 10% of respondents admitted using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving in the previous 12 months, whilst 18% said they had not used a seatbelt at some point over the same period, either as a driver or a passenger[9].

1.3 2014 Seatbelt and Mobile Phone Survey

This report outlines the extent of seatbelt compliance and hand-held mobile phone use in Scotland to enhance understanding of those who continue to neglect these regulations.

The latest survey has been carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), with Sky-High conducting the data gathering via roadside observations.

To produce representative findings, the data has been weighted prior to analysis (see section 2.3 for further information). The analysis and reporting of the data collected in Scotland has been conducted by Transport Scotland, with DfT analysts reporting from an England and Great Britain[10] (GB) perspective[11].