As of today, drivers caught using their mobile phones on UK roads will be subject to much harsher penalties.
The penalty will now consist of an on-the-spot fine of £200 and an automatic six penalty points. Remedial courses will no longer be offered.
Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving has been illegal since 2003. The law states: “It is illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device while driving… The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.”
The use of a mobile phone behind the wheel applies to making a call, using it on loudspeaker, texting, filming, taking a picture or using the internet, and the law applies even when you are sitting stationary in traffic. Hands-free units remain legal to use, as long as the driver does not touch the phone at all when in the vehicle.
The AA and the Department for Transport have produced this video to emphasise the dangers associated with text driving:
The current penalty of a £100 fine and three licence points has been in place since 2013, which was in itself an increase from the previous £60 fine/three points penalty introduced in 2007. Yet the rate of phone usage for calling or texting while driving has continued to increase.
Drivers not heeding repeated warnings
Despite high-profile safety campaigns and repeated urgings from police and safety campaigners, British drivers are using phones while driving at an ever-increasing rate.
In a recent survey of 1,008 UK drivers carried out by Leasing Options, 51% of drivers admitted to using their phone whilst driving with 16% using their phones when stopped at traffic lights.
In light of such figures, some have suggested that the new penalties do not go far enough and that even greater deterrents are required. Road safety charity Brake, although welcoming the government’s intent, described the £200 fine as “woefully inadequate.” Gary Rae, Brake’s campaigns director, has urged the government to reconsider the reduction in the number of road traffic police and to “make roads policing a national priority.”
Young drivers to be hit hard
The new penalties are likely to affect young drivers more than any other demographic. Licences issued to drivers who have qualified within the last two years are revoked if they receive six penalty points. As such, under the tougher new penalties, recently qualified drivers caught using their phones are set to lose their licence. If this happens you will have to apply and pay for a new provisional licence, and pass both the theory and practical parts of your test all over again.
Nick Lloyd, road safety manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “Taking your theory and practical driving tests can be an expensive and stressful time, so imagine having to go through it all again for one moment of stupidity.
“We understand how difficult it can be to ignore your mobile phone, but there’s not a single reason that will excuse putting people’s lives at risk, and hopefully these new stricter penalties will mean drivers think twice.”
Young drivers have also proven to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to using a phone whilst driving. In an AA poll of over 17,000 British drivers, 51% of 18-24 year olds admitted that they would not switch off their phones before driving.
In addition, 47% of 18-24 year olds were shown to believe that driving after drinking is more likely to cause an accident than using a phone while driving. Yet, according to the AA, this is untrue: using your phone on the move is twice as likely to result in a crash than drink driving.
Kate Rock, corporate communications manager at Goodyear Tyres UK, said: “We have found that mobile phone use is still prominent especially in young drivers. Worryingly, our extensive research revealed that 42% of young drivers have admitted to using their mobile phone behind the wheel.”
Leasing Options’ research found that over three quarters of 25-34 year olds admitted that if their phone goes off when they are driving, they find it distracting, even if they choose not to answer it.
Will tougher penalties change driver behaviour?
The Leasing Options research found that 91% of drivers would be deterred from using their mobile phone whilst driving by the increased punishments. Mike Thompson, brand manager at Leasing Options, said: “It is important that we recognise mobile phones in vehicles as distractions and do all we can to remove this completely. The risks involved for the driver, as well as other road users, is far too great.”