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Crack Down on Mobile Use at the Wheel

22 July 2016 | Updated 01 January 1970

With the outcome of a government consultation on increasing the penalties for illegal phone use when driving due to be published imminently, a new RAC study has found that more than half of motorists believe the current penalty combination of a fine and points should be more severe.

Fifty-two per cent of the 2,100 motorists surveyed felt the standard penalty of three penalty points and a fine of £100 for drivers caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel should be increased; however, 41% believed it is already set at the correct level. Significantly, 31% stated that increasing the severity of the penalty will not make any difference at all in changing the behaviour of those motorists who are prepared to break the law in this way.

Among the 52% of motorists who feel the penalty for illegal phone use should be increased, 21% think both the number of penalty points and the fine should be raised with 12% commenting that just the fine should be increased, whereas 6% stated that only the points should be. For 11% though, disqualification from driving is the answer with the majority of those (52%) justifying this by saying that this is the only deterrent likely to make a difference.

The RAC found that it was no wonder that more than two-thirds of the motorists surveyed (68%) wish there were more police officers around to catch offenders.


Selfish mobile users

The survey highlighted that many respondents had strong views with 76% believing offenders were putting other people’s lives at risk and 60% saying those using a hand-held phone while driving were ‘selfish and irresponsible’.

Of those who believe the offence ought to carry a higher fine, 61% think it should be at least £200 and 36% believe it should be at least £450. Among those who feel the offence should carry more penalty points, 61% said it should be six points and 14% were in favour of more than six penalty points.

The government’s consultation on raising the fine from £100 to £150 and increasing the penalty points for non-HGV drivers from three to four closed on 15 March and its response is due to published imminently.

More than a quarter (27%) of motorists asked by the RAC about the proposed DfT changes said they were a good idea but a majority (69%) believed they would not make any difference as a substantial minority would still use their hand-held phones while driving.


HGV drivers

The consultation was also seeking feedback on a proposal to increase penalty points from three to six for those that hold a large goods vehicle (HGV) licence and commit the offence while driving an HGV.

Of those surveyed, 58% thought this was a ‘good idea’ and in this instance, only 38% did not think it would make any difference whatsoever.


Taking corrective action

“There is a very strong feeling from law abiding motorists that something needs to be done to make drivers stop using their phones while driving but while people want the penalties for committing this offence to be beefed up, there is also an acceptance that nothing is likely to change, due primarily to a lack of enforcement,” observed Simon Williams, Spokesman, RAC. “From 2010-2015, England and Wales experienced a 27% decline in the number of roads police officers. The number of fixed penalty notices issued for using a handheld phone while driving reduced dramatically from a high of 125,500 in 2009 to 52,400 in 2012.”

In line with this RAC’s own research found that motorists believed there was little chance of being caught by a police officer (as opposed to a camera) for a driving offence. “In the 13 years since specific legislation was introduced making it illegal to use a handheld phone while driving, mobile phones have evolved into smartphones and the increased features offered by apps and faster internet access has raised interaction among users to near addiction levels,” commented Williams. “While being glued to the screen of a mobile phone when walking is dangerous enough, doing the same thing at the wheel of a vehicle, even just occasionally is a recipe for disaster.”

The RAC is convinced that changing this behaviour will only come through a combination of actions. There needed to be more rigorous enforcement of the law, increased penalties that acted as a meaningful deterrent and a high profile advertising campaign that made motorists fully aware of the serious consequences of using a handheld phone at the wheel of a vehicle.

Picture: Research by the RAC has shown that motorists want more severe penalties for illegal mobile phone use

Article written by Robin Snow | Published 22 July 2016


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