Facebook addicts would argue that the social networking site is a harmless pursuit. But that may depend on just how addicted you are.

Thousands, it seems, are using smartphones to log on as they drive, as well as sending emails, tweeting and texting.

The lure of Facebook, Twitter, email and texts is just too much for a fifth of drivers aged from 17 to 24, who (in a UK survey) admitted to endangering lives so they can keep up with their online contacts at the wheel.

The lengths to which they will go for their fix were revealed by the British RAC yesterday in its annual report. Road safety experts say the situation is getting worse because using a phone is not yet as socially unacceptable as drink-driving for young motorists. Eleven per cent of all drivers also looked at apps and websites, listened to music or even played games on their phones.

Drug-driving is also on the rise, particularly among younger drivers, despite government plans for a crackdown. The number of 17 to 24-year-olds driving after taking drugs has nearly doubled from 5 per cent to 9 per cent.

RAC technical director David Bizley said: “The growth of the new breed of motoring offences, like drug-driving and social networking behind the wheel, is highly concerning. These offences don’t yet have the same social taboo that drink-driving holds.”

Smartphones more dangerous than booze

Studies by insurers show that drivers using hand-held phones are twice as likely to crash, while research by the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the Transport Research Laboratory at Crowthorne, Berkshire, concluded: “Using smartphones for social networking while driving is more dangerous than drink-driving or being high on cannabis behind the wheel.”

Police figures suggest phone use is a contributing factor in two percent of road fatalities. However, the RAC report says too few offenders are prosecuted, adding: “Only 124 700 people were given a fixed-penalty notice for driving without a hands-free kit last year.

“Too many motorists do not treat using hand-held mobiles as an offence, which suggests that current penalties aren’t working.”

According to the RAC report – from a survey of 1002 motorists – 42 percent want to see drivers banned for mobile phone-related offences. But almost a quarter think they are unlikely to get caught if they break traffic laws.

Although the 17 to 24-year-olds were the worst offenders when it came to using smartphones for emails and social networking behind the wheel, their older counterparts aren’t far behind.

Of those aged 25 to 44, 18 per cent owned up to the offence – up a half from 12 per cent last year.

Drivers caught using a hand-held phone at the wheel in the UK face three points and a £60 (R783) fine, which is set to increase to up to £100 (R1300). Serious offenders may be banned and fined £1000 (R13 000), and a driver who kills someone while using a phone can be jailed for 14 years. -Daily Mail