When asked to name the biggest danger on Britain’s roads, many of us think of motorists who use mobile phones to talk or text while driving, over and above more traditional issues like drink driving. As well as calls and texts, drivers have been spotted surfing the internet, playing games, or taking pictures with mobile phones while in motion. Leisure, commuter and motor trade drivers are all guilty of committing the offence.
Surveys have shown that mobile phone use is dangerously distracting, even when a hands free kit is used. Drivers who have phone conversations four times as likely to be involved in a significant crash, with a raised risk of accident for up to ten minutes after the call has ended. Drivers who text were found to have a 23 times higher chance of an incident, thanks to slower reaction times and a lack of awareness of what was going on around them.
So the public is likely to welcome a proposed government crackdown on mobile phone use while driving.
Currently, drivers of cars who are caught using a mobile phone at the wheel face a fine of £100, and three points on their driving licence. Under the new scheme, the fine will double to £200, and six penalty points. For drivers who are caught on multiple occasions, fines will rise to a maximum of £1,000, plus a possible driving ban, and offenders may have to go to court. This increases the impact a mobile phone offence will have on a driver’s insurance policy.
For new drivers who have recently passed their test, penalties are likely to be more severe, and they may be made to retake the driving test.
While the move has been welcomed, it is uncertain whether the police have sufficient resources to crack down on mobile phone use, since the number of officers on the road has fallen over the last few years. Since many drivers of both new and used cars have installed dashboard cameras, some offenders are caught using footage taken by witnesses that shows phone use along with the car’s registration or trade plates.
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Members of the public can also do their bit by ensuring family members and friends don’t use their phones while driving, in particular educating young drivers. Government sponsored advertising campaigns aim to raise awareness of the issue, and how serious it can be, while media reports of crashes in which one driver was using a phone highlight the dangers.
In a statement, transport minister Chris Grayling expressed the government’s wish to make mobile phone use as big a taboo as drink driving, which was once seen as socially acceptable. “We all have a part to play in ensuring our family and friends do not use their phones while driving,” Grayling said.