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Half of Finland's motorists use smartphones while driving

Finland had the highest rate among 20 European countries of mobile phone use by drivers, according to a survey.

Kuski ajaa autoa puhelin kädessä.
Four out of five Finns consider text messaging and social media related messaging while driving to be a serious or very serious offence, according to the Finnish Road Safety Council. Image: Yle

Every second Finnish respondent admitted to using their phone while driving without utilizing hands-free equipment in a 2018 poll. This result put Finland at the top of the 20 European countries participating in the survey in this area.

The so-called ESRA2 poll was the second round of an E-Survey of Road Users’ Attitudes (ESRA) that asked respondents to report their behaviour, attitudes and opinions about unsafe traffic practices and enforcement experiences.

"The Finns are recognised as being a nation of mobile phone users, but using them on the road is risky. A mobile phone is distracting, no matter whether you are a driver, cyclist or pedestrian," says Juha Valtonen, a research director at the Finnish Road Safety Council.

To assess self-declared behaviours in traffic, car drivers were asked the question: "Over the last 30 days, how often did you as a car driver use a hand-held mobile phone while driving?" Just about half, 49.5 percent, answered "at least once" or more.

In response to the same question for hands-free phone use, 41 percent of Finnish respondents said they had done so, placing the Finns below the European average of 47 percent in this area. The number one place among hand-held mobile use and low ranking for hands-free use suggests that Finns are not using hands-free devices as much as their peers.

Almost 36 percent of Finns self-reported that they had texted while driving, putting the country in third place after Portugal and Serbia in the ranking.

80% in Finland against driver phone use

According to the Finnish Road Safety Council, four out of five Finns consider text messaging and social media related messaging while driving to be a serious or very serious offence.

The percentage of survey respondents overall who declared that talking on a hand-held mobile phone is often or frequently the cause of a road crash is higher than the self-declared behaviour, suggesting that many drivers consider the behaviour risky, but do it anyway. On average, 76 percent of Europeans condemned the practice, compared to 71 percent in North America, 62 percent in Africa and 53 percent in Asia and Oceania.

The survey also found no significant association between the number of tickets and the percentage of car drivers who reported talking on a hand-held mobile phone.

"Finland and Greece are exceptions […] both have high rate of self-declared behaviour and low number of tickets," the survey report reads.

Higher rates elsewhere

This second phase of the ESRA2 survey targeted more than 1,000 individuals in 32 countries, 20 of which were in Europe.

In addition to mobile phone distraction, the survey addressed different road safety topics such as driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs and medicines, and speeding. It targeted the drivers of motor vehicles, including motorcycles and mopeds, as well as cyclists and pedestrians.

Key results of the survey found that self-declared mobile phone use while driving a car was most frequent in the five African countries that participated in the survey.

Results from Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa suggest that an average of more than 66 percent of car drivers in those countries admitted to having talked on a hands-free mobile phone while driving a car, while 54 percent said they spoke on a hand-held mobile phone, and nearly 27 percent said they'd read a text message, or checked their email or social media feeds while behind the wheel.

Walkers and bikers stare at screens too

Similar figures among the twenty countries in Europe that participated in the survey show that an average of nearly 48 percent used hands-free devices, 28 percent talked on a hand-held mobile phone, and 24 percent read a text or email or checked social media while driving.

The ESRA2 survey found that percentages were similar in North America and Asia/Oceania, with the US and Canada matching Korea, India, Israel, Japan with averages of nearly 50 percent using hands-free devices - with 38 percent talking on hand-held phones, and 36 percent texting.

Two-thirds of pedestrians in Finland reported using their phone while on the move; while one-quarter of cyclists said they did the same.

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