Government clampdown on drivers using mobile phones

driver-distractionThese days it seems that tragic stories of accidents caused by motorists using their mobiles are never far from the headlines. If you go for a drive there’s a good chance that you’ll see someone using their mobile behind the wheel: it might make your blood boil, but it probably won’t be a surprise. Something is going badly wrong and a hard-hitting report by the RAC has cast light on the scope of the problem. Faced with the cold facts (and a national newspaper campaign) the government have been quick to change gear and introduce much tougher penalties.

The statistics driving change

At the centre of the report was the finding that 31% of motorists admitted to using a handheld phone behind the wheel compared with just 8% the previous year. With mobile phone usage quadrupling the RAC rightly claimed the problem had reached ‘epidemic proportions’ and to make matters worse 19% of motorists admitted to using social media while driving and 14% said they had taken a photo or video. The report also included Department of Transport figures which showed driver distraction due to mobile usage contributed to 492 accidents and 21 fatalities in 2014.

Existing driver distraction legislation

Most motorists know that using a mobile phone while driving is both dangerous and illegal. Anyone caught can expect three penalty points on their licence and a fixed £100 fine. If the case goes to court the fine can rise to a maximum of £1000 and the driver can lose their licence. If the motorist is convicted of dangerous driving; they can expect to receive a substantial prison sentence.

The real route of the problem

Given that it’s already illegal to use a mobile behind the wheel, why are so many motorists prepared to flout the law? Put simply: because they think they won’t get caught. The report revealed that 7% admitted to using a mobile because ‘they knew they would get away with it’.

Government cuts have seen the number of full-time traffic police fall by 23% from 2010 to 2015. In the same period the number of drivers fined for using their mobile has dropped by 76% from 123,000 to 30,000 and the number of court convictions has halved.

Increasing smartphone addiction and the fact that motorists think they won’t get caught are doubtless contributing factors, but there’s also a question of public awareness and social stigma.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that some drivers simply don’t think that it’s dangerous and because we see people breaking the law everyday there’s less stigma. Perhaps part of the solution would be an education and awareness campaign similar to the one that successfully made drink driving socially unacceptable.

Tough new approach to end ‘mobile madness’

In response to the report the Prime Minister Theresa May promised ‘tough action’ to put an end to the ‘unacceptable’ use of mobiles behind the wheel. Plans to increase the fixed fine to £150 and four penalty points were shelved and new tougher sanctions proposed. Now drivers caught using mobiles will automatically get six penalty points and an on-the-spot fine of at least £200.

The changes mean that anyone caught twice will automatically lose their licence and new drivers could have their licence revoked if caught within two years of passing their test. The new measures are likely to be introduced early 2017 and have been warmly welcomed by motoring organisations and the general public.


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