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Mobile phones and driving: is the law doing enough?

Over half a million UK motorists use their phone while driving. In 2013, mobile phones were a factor in 22% of fatal road accidents.

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More than half a million motorists still use their phone while behind the wheel. Not only are these numbers increasing but, more disturbingly, stats reveal that in 2013 mobile phones were a factor in 22% of all fatal road traffic accidents.

Government data also suggests that the majority of drivers had the phone in their hands, rather than to their ears engaged in a call, meaning the temptation of social media and texting could be providing problems that Bluetooth hands-free sets cannot solve.

With social media platforms always pushing for greater interaction, is there anything we can do to reduce the danger mobile phone use poses while driving?

Currently, a driver caught using a mobile phone faces a £100 fine and three penalty points on their licence. This was introduced in 2013, after the penalty was already increased in 2007 and the law itself only introduced in 2003. Clearly the government is open to changing the law in a bid to make roads safer, but have they gone far enough? Civil servants are reportedly drawing up plans to increase the penalty to £200, and upping the standard fine clearly shows recognition that mobile phone use is a serious offence.

Mobile phones are being used more frequently

However, looking at government data surrounding its previous penalty increases may suggest that a greater fine may not be enough to deter motorists:

Mobile phone usage while driving (The Car Expert)

As the graph shows, the amount of mobile phones used by car drives has notably decreased on two occasions, following the legislation being initially introduced and when the penalty was amended to include points against a driver’s licence. However, from as early as 2008 more drivers are using their mobile phones, and a £100 has failed to make an impact.

Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is one official who has called for offenders to receive six points against their licence in a bid to combat statistics:

“The problem at the moment is we are dishing out lots of tickets, somebody gets three points and they have got another three chances. I would say you have got two chances. You have had a mobile phone infraction and if you do it again you lose your licence.” (Speaking in 2013)

Six points is currently the penalty against a driver’s licence for driving without insurance, which racked up over a quarter of a million reports between January 2013 and June 2015. Raising the penalty against mobile phone users to a similar level could have a knock-on effect, also calling for a revision of non-insured driving offences.

The use of mobile phones while driving is increasing on UK roads

Should mobile phones automatically deactivate while driving?

With technology at the heart of the problem, some are calling for it to provide the solution, with drivers’ phone access limited while on the road. Director of Policy and Research for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, Neil Greig, believes this could be an effective measure, acting as an automatic ‘flight mode’ when drivers step into their vehicle:

“There are phones that have sensors within them which detect the motion of a car, and can then immediately shut down calling and texting functions. This should be universal.”

If such a function were made possible, implementing it into the law could prove tricky, especially when considering if the driver has passengers. Limiting their mobile phone use could be seen as stifling, whereas not enforcing universal restrictions encourages a driver to borrow a passenger’s device while on the road as a means to bypass what Greig suggests.

Because of the short and snappy nature of social media updates and text messages, drivers may never feel completely deterred from quickly picking up their phone while driving. While they may think a quick message won’t be caught, using a mobile phone still puts the driver, and therefore others on the road, at great risk. Do you think the law is doing enough to punish those caught using mobile phones behind the wheel?

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