Drivers who tailgate other vehicles or use a handheld phone while at the wheel are the most dangerous threats on the road, according to a new survey from the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

More than half of all drivers regard each of these two activities as "highly dangerous", according to a BMRB survey of almost 700 motorists carried out for the IAM, the UK’s leading organisation for improving driving standards. Drivers who overtake on single carriageway A-roads when there is oncoming traffic, and those who cut others up, forcing them to brake, are regarded as the next most dangerous threats.

The survey shows that more women (60 per cent) than men (47 per cent) regard tailgating as highly dangerous. Likewise, more women than men see ‘phoning and driving’ as highly dangerous (61 per cent of women versus 44 per cent of men).

In contrast, young drivers (aged 17 to 29) are significantly less likely to regard other motorists’ activities as dangerous. Only 30 per cent of young drivers regard "phoning and driving" as highly dangerous, compared with more than 50 per cent for all other age groups. Similarly, 40 per cent of young drivers consider tailgating highly dangerous, compared with 55 per cent of other age groups.

Steve Norris, a member of the IAM Council and former transport and road safety minister said:

"Many of Britain’s motorists regard other drivers as lacking basic road safety skills. Too many road users slip into bad habits, either through ignorance, impatience or, even worse, aggression.

"Tailgating and phoning while driving are activities which are a clear threat to the safety of others. No one has the right to drive badly but the results of bad driving fill our hospitals every day. Motorists should leave at least a two second gap behind the vehicle in front, and more in bad weather. And using handheld mobile phones at the wheel has the potential to kill."

The IAM is calling on the Highways Agency and other local highway authorities to paint more chevrons on motorways and other fast roads to remind drivers of the "Two Second Rule" – the safe gap between vehicles.

The IAM also wants the Government to impose stronger enforcement of the regulation banning use of a handheld phone at the wheel, which was introduced 18 months ago.

Figures from a Department for Transport survey reveal that a total of 26,400 fixed penalty notices were issued by 27 of the 51 police forces in Great Britain during the first ten months of the regulation between 1 December 2003 and 30 September 2004.

This compares with the Department for Transport’s estimate* that the new offence would result in 50,000 to 100,000 fixed penalty notices a year and 2,000 to 5,000 prosecutions in court.

Steve Norris said:

"More effective police action would help the Government achieve the aim of making ‘phoning-and-driving’ as socially unacceptable as drinking-and-driving.

"We are particularly alarmed by the evidence that many younger, less experienced drivers fail to appreciate the risks of poor driving skills. Taking an advanced driving test will make them better equipped to identify and avoid dangers on the road, and be less of a risk to themselves and others. The cost is a small price to pay for making you a better, safer driver, with skills which could save lives – their own and others."