By Russell Hope, news reporter
Using a handheld phone while driving is "rocketing" among some age groups, despite harsher penalties for offenders, a study has found.
Research by the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) said 47% of motorists aged between 25 and 34 admitted making or receiving calls while driving, up seven percent from the previous year.
A quarter (25%) of drivers in all age groups – equivalent to 10m people – said they had done so, an increase of one point from 24% in 2017.
The RAC found 36% of motorists in the 25-34 age group and 29% of those between 35 and 44 used a phone to send texts, post on social media or check emails while driving, a 10% rise on the previous year and back to the same level as in 2016.
Thirty-nine percent of drivers in the 35-44 age group admitted to making or receiving calls while driving, and 54% said they do so while stationary.
Almost a third of drivers (30%) aged 25 to 34 admit to taking photos, selfies or videos while driving, more than double the proportion of all drivers who do this (16%).
The worst area is London, where 52% of drivers say they make or take calls using a handheld phone while driving, up 16% from 2017 and higher than in 2016 (47%).
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Many parts of the UK recorded a reduction in drivers admitting to using a handheld phone illegally.
The motoring organisation surveyed 1,800 drivers for its annual Report on Motoring.
Since March 2017, anyone caught using a handheld phone while driving has faced having six points placed on their licence and a £200 fine – double the previous penalty of three points and £100.
The 2017 report found these harsher penalties appeared to have done the trick, with levels of phone use behind the wheel dropping.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: "We fear any benefits have run their course with this data showing illegal use is now rocketing among some groups of drivers.
"Following the introduction of stronger penalties in 2017, we saw a promising shift with some drivers changing their behaviour for the better and becoming compliant with the law.
"Sadly, that didn't signal the start of a longer-term trend with drivers now seemingly returning to their old ways and putting themselves and millions of other road users at risk."
Using a mobile phone while driving contributed to crashes in which 43 people died and 135 were seriously injured on Britain's roads in 2017, Department for Transport figures show.
Inspector Frazer Davey, of Avon and Somerset Police, said: "We know that driver distraction is a cause of collisions.
"The law is clear on the use of mobile devices in vehicles and police officers across the country will continue to prosecute drivers who choose to drive while distracted on their phones."