Drivers are using their mobile phones in cars for more than talking, according to new research from the AA. Some drivers are texting, emailing, tweeting, updating Facebook or taking photographs on the move.

A majority (58%) say they have never used a hand-held phone in the car, but of the 42% that have used a phone, 60% say it distracted them from driving, according to a recent AA/Populus poll of 20,936 drivers. The AA finds this worrying as it implies almost 40% think using a hand-held mobile is not distracting.

Three quarters of drivers (74%) see others using mobile phones on some or most journeys with one quarter (25%) seeing it on every journey.

Some 20% admit to having used a mobile phone to send a text and even 4% admit to checking emails and 2% to sending emails on the move.

2% have read Twitter or Facebook updates on the move and 1% have even tweeted on the move.

Another worrying and morbid development, according to AA president Edmund King, is the advent of ‘digital rubber neckers’ – drivers who feel the need to use their phones to film or photograph serious crashes on the motorway. He said last month on the M1 in Northamptonshire the police recorded 80 drivers using their phones or indeed cameras to photograph emergency services attempting a four and a half hour rescue of a 21-year-old women driver trapped in her crashed truck. The seriously injured driver was eventually flown by air ambulance to hospital and survived the crash. The police have contacted most of these drivers to warn them about their illegal and irresponsible behaviour but haven’t prosecuted the drivers.

The use of hand-held phones while driving has been illegal since 2003 yet AA/Populus figures suggest their use is still widespread. Whether talking on a hand-held phone, texting, emailing or taking a picture drivers face a £60 fine, three penalty points on their licence and increased insurance premiums. The penalties could be more severe if the actions are deemed to constitute careless or dangerous driving.

King said: “Drivers need to concentrate on driving rather than be distracted by their digital technology. Our research shows that some drivers are now using their smart phones for more than talking on the move. It is really not smart to talk, text or tweet on the move.

“Digital rubber neckers who photograph crashes really are morbid voyeurs who should be concentrating on the road, not the victims of crashes. It beggars belief that these macabre motorists should put their lives and others at risk through their lust for twisted metal.

“We would like to see the police target more mobile phone abusers so that the message gets out that it is not worth hanging on the telephone while driving. However, we have seen a 29% reduction in traffic police** in the past decade so their resources are stretched.”