New stiffer penalties are on the way from March 1st

More than 10,000 vehicles were stopped by police as part of a week-long crackdown on mobile phone use while driving at the end of last year, detecting nearly 8,000 offenders. The news comes as new stiffer penalties are confirmed from March 1.

Police from 36 forces took part in the campaign, which saw more than 7,800 fixed penalty notices issued, as well as hundreds of verbal warnings given, 68 court summons and 117 other distraction offences such as eating while driving.

This was the highest ever total for a week of enforcement on distraction driving. Previous crackdowns saw 2,690 fines issued in May 2015, 2,276 in September 2015 and 2,323 in May last year.

Officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland issued more than 40 fines an hour during November’s campaign.

New initiatives in 2017

Police chiefs said the results were “encouraging” as another week-long campaign took place in January.

Operations include:

  • targeted patrols using unmarked vans, high vantage points and helmet cams to catch offenders
  • partnership with local authorities and emergency services to deter people from taking risks
  • innovative digital campaigns to communicate that the risks were more serious than people think
  • community ‘spotters’ to highlight hotspots and repeat offenders to police
  • advising motorists about changes to penalties for mobile phone use from March 1, 2017.

Chief constable Suzette Davenport, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing, said: “Encouraging results from last year’s campaign against mobile phone use show how effective new tactics and innovative approaches can be.

“Remember: when at the wheel, your calls or texts can wait. Keep your eyes on the road.”

Phone use while driving ‘widespread’

It is illegal to use a handheld phone while driving, with those falling foul of the rules facing penalty points and a fine. But recent studies show that use of mobile phones when driving is widespread and the risks are drastically underestimated.

Calls to prevent drivers using phones intensified last year in the wake of several high-profile cases and research indicating that it was commonplace.

In October, for example, a lorry driver who killed a mother and three children while distracted by his phone, was jailed for 10 years.

Government crackdown

This latest initiative comes after the Department for Transport confirmed that it would be increasing the penalties for mobile phone use while driving.

From March 1, a change in the law, which will apply to England, Scotland and Wales, will take place to reflect the severity of the offence.

Not only will those caught get a £200 fixed penalty fine, but if they are caught twice and accrue 12 points, they will automatically appear in court and face a fine of up to £1,000 and a driving ban of up to six months.

Newly qualified drivers could also face having their licences revoked after the first offence, and to regain their licence may have to reapply for a provisional and drive as a learner until they pass further theory and practical tests.

What does the current 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 £1,000 or £2,500 if you were driving a bus or a goods vehicle.

Advice to drivers

There is ample evidence that using any sort of phone, including hands-free phones, 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.

All companies should have a sound mobile phone policy in place which should be accessible to all those who drive on company business.

Amongst others, it 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.

 

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