November 4, 2016

Police in national action against motorists using mobile phones

‘Distracted driving’ will face new stiffer penalties from next year

Police in England and Wales are conducting a week-long crackdown on motorists who use their mobile phones while driving, with operations that include dedicated patrols and messages on road signs.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the campaign aimed to make ‘driving distracted’ as socially unacceptable as ‘drink driving’.

The national week of action comes after a previous one in May, which the police said resulted in the detection of 2,323 offences across the week.

How will it work?

As part of the latest campaign week, police officers will work together with paramedics to educate the public on the risks of using phones while driving.

The officers on the dedicated patrols will be using unmarked vans, helmet cams, high-seated vehicles and high vantage points to catch offenders.

There will also be social media videos and messages, schemes enabling “community spotters” to target repeat offenders, and messages which will be displayed on commuter routes telling motorists to leave their phones alone.

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport from the NPCC told the BBC that tackling mobile phone use by drivers needed new technology and new tactics.

“Forces are coming together this week with innovative approaches to catching those driving when distracted and campaign to make drivers think twice about using their mobiles at the wheel.

“Tackling mobile phone use by drivers requires police enforcement using new technology and tactics to maximise the numbers of people we can stop, combined with strong effective penalties and creative national campaigns to make driving distracted as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
“When you’re getting in your car, remember don’t put others at risk – keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel,” she said.

Government crackdown

This latest initiative comes after the Government confirmed that it would be seeking to increase the penalties next year for mobile phone use while driving.

At the beginning of this month, the Department for Transport said it intends to lay legislation before Parliament as soon as possible to increase the fine from £100 to £200 and the penalty points from three to six for all drivers caught using handheld mobile phones while driving.

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, while newly qualified drivers could be made to retake their test the first time they are caught.

The news comes as an RAC survey showed that the number of motorists illegally using mobile phones while at the wheel was on the increase.

More drivers admit to using handheld mobiles

The RAC study, which interviewed 1,714 motorists, found that 31% of them admitted to using a handheld phone behind the wheel compared with just 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 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 £1000 or £2500 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.

If you need more information on this topic, then please get in touch.