Warning of ‘epidemic’ of TikTok boy racers after number of drivers caught on phones doubles in a year

A senior police officer has warned of an “epidemic” of reckless drivers using apps like TikTok[1] and Facebook to live stream videos from behind the wheel.

Adrian Leisk, head of road safety for Devon and Cornwall Police, said there needed to be more education about the dangers of using a phone while driving.

It comes as figures obtained by i show that the number of motorists caught using their phone almost doubled last year.

The total number of offences recorded by 21 of England and Wales’ 43 police forces increased from 9,283 in 2021 to 17,783 in 2022.

Police believe that easing lockdown restrictions and simplified, tougher rules to crack down on those using a phone behind the wheel is partly behind the increase.

But there are also fears that habitual social media use is fuelling the surge – including so-called “boy racers” who upload videos of dangerous driving in a bid to impress their followers.

In July, Adil Iqbal was jailed for 12 years for killing pregnant mother Frankie Jules-Hough, 38, as he filmed himself weaving through motorway traffic at up to 123mph in Bury, Greater Manchester. It is thought that he planned to upload the video to Facebook.

In November 2021, a mother and daughter died when a van driver, who had taken cocaine and was using TikTok, smashed into them.

Luke Flanagan was using the app via his phone which was mounted on the dashboard when he ploughed into Emma van der Avoird, 55, and her 16-year-old daughter Khiana as they waited in standstill traffic.

Undated handout photo issued by Greater Manchester Police of Adil Iqbal, 22, who has been jailed for 12 years at Minshull Street Crown Court for killing a pregnant mother-of-two in a road smash. Adil was driving with one hand and holding his phone with the other to film himself, possibly to upload to Facebook, as he tailgated and undertook other vehicles and swerved across lanes, reaching 123mph in his father's BMW car on the M66 in Bury, Greater Manchester, on May 13 this year. Issue date: Wednesday July 19, 2023. PA Photo. Frankie Jules-Hough, 38, had pulled over on the hard shoulder with a tyre puncture, with her two sons and nephew in the car, and was making a call Adil Iqbal, 22, was jailed for 12 years for killing a pregnant mother-of-two in a road smash (Photo: Greater Manchester Police/PA Wire)

Mr Leisk, who oversees Devon and Cornwall’s road safety campaigns, said that a recent initiative using AI cameras caught 1,000 drivers in just four weeks for various offences. Many were for using a phone at the wheel.

“A lot of the videos we get are people sitting in their cars, scrolling through social media while they’re in traffic,” he said.

‘Indescribably reckless’

Undated handout file photo taken from GoFundMe of Frankie Jules-Hough, 38, who was killed and her son Tommy, nine, and her nephew Tobias Spencer, four, seriously injured in a road traffic accident on the M66 on May 13. Adil Iqbal, 22, has been jailed for 12 years at Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, after admitting causing the death by dangerous driving of Ms Jules-Hough, and causing serious injury to the children after speeding at 123mph. Issue date: Wednesday July 19, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story COURTS M66. Photo credit should read: Family Handout/GoFundMe/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder. Frankie Jules-Hough, 38, and her unborn daughter died after being hit by a car on the M66 motorway (Photo: Family Handout/GoFundMe/PA Wire)

Frankie Jules-Hough, a former Hollyoaks actress, had been driving with her sons Thomas, nine, and Rocky, two, and her four-year-old nephew Tobias when she pulled over onto the hard shoulder on the M6 with a punctured tire on 13 May this year.

Iqbal, 22, had been filming himself driving up to 123mph when he lost control of his BMW and crashed into Ms Jules-Hough’s car. She suffered catastrophic brain injuries and died in hospital two days later.

Thomas and Tobias suffered skull and spinal injuries, while Rocky escaped relatively unharmed.

Iqbal was jailed for 12 years after admitting causing death by dangerous driving and two offences of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Sentencing him at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, Judge Maurice Greene said Ms Jules-Hough was killed by the “most indescribably reckless driving”.

Ms Jules-Hough’s partner, Calvin Buckley, told i: “You can sort of accept an accident, if it would have been an accident that caused Frankie’s death that would have been easier to deal with.

“Or if it was a moment of madness, if for whatever reason he thought ‘I want to overtake someone’, even that would have been easier.

“But the fact that he was being stupid and filming himself, it was a form of showing off basically, and the effects that’s caused by somebody showing off and trying to make themselves look good, it makes it more tragic. It makes it seem that maybe it would have been avoidable.”

He added: “I suppose it’s a sign of today’s society where everything is [about] social media, people want to film everything,” Mr Buckley added.

“People will literally film anything, even if it’s them committing their own crime.

“People don’t seem to care however bad it is, it’s going to get people looking, it’s going to get them attention.

“People are addicted to this, I think it’s a nasty influence.”

Nick Simmons, CEO of RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving, for whatever purpose, is selfish and reckless when driving.

“Nothing is more important than paying attention to the road and getting from A to B safely. 

“No call, message, email or social media post will ever be more important than that.”

“They can’t put their phone down… It’s of epidemic proportions. People do everything on their phone, they don’t alter their mindset or approach when they get in a car.”

Under new rules introduced in March 2022, anyone caught using their mobile phone behind the wheel now faces an automatic fine of £200 and six points on their licence.

Mr Leisk welcomed the changes as “previous legislation hadn’t caught up with technology”, but said there was more to be done to educate drivers of the risks.

“We’re not going to enforce our way out of this problem,” he said.

In the wake of Ms Jules-Hough’s death and other cases, Mr Leisk also called on social media companies to clamp down on promoting content that encourages dangerous driving.

Police forces have recorded a big increase in the number of drivers caught using their mobile phone behind the wheel (Photo: Tetra Images/Getty)

When i searched TikTok this week there were a number of popular accounts sharing anonymous videos of people driving dangerously in powerful cars on the UK.

In one clip, a man is shown driving through traffic in a Range Rover Sport SVR at speeds of almost 160mph.

TikTok says that its Community Guidelines make clear that it does not allow content that depicts or promotes criminal activities and dangerous behaviour and that it automatically applies a warning label to content which promotes dangerous behaviour that is not illegal but could result in harm.

The platform says it uses a combination of technologies and moderation teams to identify, review and remove content or accounts that violate its guidelines.

Meta, which owns Facebook, was also contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “Our deepest sympathies go to the family and friends of Frankie Jules-Hough.

“It’s illegal to use a phone behind the wheel for any reason and tough laws can lead to fines and suspensions, while this Government has also raised the jail term for killer drivers from 14 years to life.

“Meanwhile, we continue to prevent future crimes and educate those most likely to offend with our effective THINK! campaign.”

Number of drivers caught using mobile phone behind the wheel (increase from 2021 to 2022)

Cambridgeshire: 212 to 381

Cleveland: 12 to 83

Cheshire: 1039 to 1352

Devon & Cornwall Police: 547 to 923

Dorset Police: 178 to 251

Essex Police: 458 to 1238

Gwent: 156 to 159

Hertfordshire: 368 to 508

Kent: 1403 to 3080

Lancashire: 788 to 1658

Leicestershire: 274 to 363

Merseyside: 1183 to 1282

Norfolk: 112 to 888

North Wales: 22 29

Northamptonshire: 60 to 396

South Yorkshire: 297 to 446

Suffolk: 122 to 712

Warwickshire: 348 to 547

West Mercia: 308 to 548

West Midlands: 225 to 631

West Yorkshire Police 1,171 to 2,308


  1. ^ TikTok (inews.co.uk)