The study, in collaboration with insurer Direct Line, also revealed that drivers in the 25-34 age bracket were the worst offenders, with 55 per cent of them saying they had checked their messages at the wheel within the last year.
Despite knowing that taking their eyes off the road to use their phones is illegal and dangerous one in five drivers aged 18-24 also said they regularly used messaging services on their mobile when they should have been concentrating on the road.
The survey of 1,000 drivers also found that a worrying number of motorists admitted to using other apps on their mobile devices on a regular basis.
Excluding sat nav apps, the study found 49 per cent of drivers in the 25-34 age bracket had gone online or accessed apps on their phone in the last year and nearly a third (31 per cent) said they did it more than once a week. In comparison, 9 per cent of 35-44-year-olds and just five per cent of 45-54 admitted to the same offence.
Studies have shown that, despite how in control drivers think they are, secondary tasks such as checking a phone can have a serious impact on their abilities.
According to a Transport Research Laboratory study, texting drivers’ reaction times are 35 per cent slower and they also have poor lane control than those fully focused on driving. Another large-scale study by US authorities found texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention.
Alice Bailey, campaigns and communications adviser for Brake, said: “Younger drivers, especially those aged between 25 and 34, simply aren’t getting the message about the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.
“Doing any other complex task while driving hugely increases your chance of crashing. We’ve seen recent examples of drivers who have crashed while trying to play games like Pokémon Go or posting Snapchat images while behind the wheel. These drivers are putting their own and other people’s lives in grave danger by taking this risk.
“If a phone has to be used as a sat nav, it must be programmed before setting off on the journey and properly secured. There is no other acceptable way to use a phone while driving.”
Rob Miles, director of car insurance at Direct Line added: “Reading a text message is not a matter of life and death but taking your eyes off the road could well be.
“It’s simple – wait until your journey is finished or you are safely parked somewhere before you use your phone.”