Government set to bring in new fines from mid-2017
The penalties for using mobile phones while driving are set to double next year due to a new Government crackdown.
Under new rules expected to come in by the middle of 2017, drivers will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fine, while newly qualified drivers could be made to retake their test the first time they are caught.
The new rules, which will apply to England, Scotland and Wales, could also see more experienced drivers going to court if they offend twice, and facing possible fines of up to £1,000 and at least a six-month driving ban.
The news comes as an RAC survey shows that the number of motorists illegally using mobile phones while at the wheel is on the increase.
What does the survey show?
The study is based on interviews with 1,714 motorists and says 31% of motorists last year used a handheld phone behind the wheel compared with 8% in 2014.
The number of drivers who said they sent a message or posted on social media rose from 7% to 19%, while 14% of drivers said they had taken a photograph or video while driving.
Amongst other findings, the RAC study also showed that:
- 7% of those who admitted using a mobile while driving said they did it because they knew they would get away with it
- 23% claimed it was an emergency, 21% said they needed information for their journey and 12% said it was a habit
The RAC said the use of handheld mobiles was now “the biggest road safety concern among motorists today”.
What’s behind the increase?
The RAC believes that a 27% drop in full-time dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales – excluding London – between 2010 and 2015 means drivers do not fear they will be caught for offences not detected by automatic cameras.
Department for Transport figures show that a driver impaired or distracted by their phone was a contributory factor in 492 accidents in Britain in 2014 – 21 of which were fatal and 84 classed as serious.
A government spokesman said that, while the UK had some of the safest roads in the world, motorists using handheld mobile phones while driving was “totally unacceptable”.
“Offenders involved in road accidents while using a mobile phone already face serious offences such as causing death by dangerous driving, which can carry a substantial prison term.
“We have also proposed tougher penalties for mobile phone use to act as a deterrent and ensure it is not tolerated in society,” he said.
What does the law say?
It is illegal to use a mobile phone held in the hand while driving or while stopped with the engine on, and has been since December 2003.
Currently, if you break this law, even if you are otherwise driving safely, you face a fine of £100 and three penalty points on your licence.
You will be summonsed to appear in court if you refuse to accept the fixed penalty and may also be taken to court if the police think the offence so bad that a fixed penalty is inadequate.
If you go to court, fines will almost certainly be larger and disqualification is possible – the maximum fine in a court is £1000 or £2500 if you were driving a bus or a goods vehicle.
You only need to be seen
These offences apply simply if you are seen using a mobile while driving. If your driving is bad, or if there is a crash while you are using the phone, you could be prosecuted for careless driving, dangerous driving or, if someone is killed, for causing death by careless or dangerous driving.
Fines can be much greater, and prison becomes almost certain if a death is caused. Your company could also be liable if it did not have a mobile phone policy in place or if you had not been made aware of it.
Hands-free mobile phones
While it is an offence to be seen using a hand held phone, regardless of whether driving has been affected, this is not the case for hands-free phones.
However, if you are shown not to be in control of a vehicle while using a hands-free phone, you can be prosecuted for that offence. The penalties are currently the same as for using a hand-held phone.
Your employer may be open to prosecution:
- If they cause or permit you to drive while using a phone or to not have proper control of the vehicle
- If they require you to make or receive calls whilst driving
- If you drive dangerously because you are using a phone installed by your employer.
Advice to drivers
There is ample evidence that using any sort of phone has a considerable effect on accident risk, so simply complying with the law does not necessarily make you a safe driver.
While it’s not a specific offence, using a hands-free phone can also have a major bearing on whether or not you could be found guilty of careless or dangerous driving.
A mobile phone policy should contain the following advice:
- Do not use a mobile phone held in the hand while driving or while stopped with the engine switched on, unless calling the emergency services.
- Stop where it is safe to do so to make or take a call, or leave it to go to voicemail – even if you have a hands-free phone.
- If you must talk, keep conversations short and simple or say that you will find a safe and legal place to stop and phone back.
- If you’re an employer, you should issue specific company advice on mobile phone use as part of your work-related road safety policy.