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Drivers call for harsher punishments on hand-held mobile phone use

Date: 13 June 2016   |   Author: Debbie Wood

New research from the RAC has revealed that 52% of drivers believe the current penalties for using a hand-held phone when behind the wheel are not severe enough.

On 1 December 2003, it became illegal to use a hand-head mobile phone while driving. Initially you'd receive a fixed penalty of £30 or a fine of up to £1,000 if caught. In February 2007 however, the punishments have been more severe with the fixed penalty rising to £100 and three points added to your licence if caught.

This latest research suggests that drivers are now looking for these penalties to be revisited again.

Among those who feel the penalty should be increased, a fifth (21%) think both the number of points and the fine should be raised. 12% said 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%) believing it's the only deterrent likely to make a difference.

The Government is already considering raising the fine from £100 to £150 and increasing the penalty points from three to four. We're expecting to see the results from the consultation, which closed in March, very soon. 

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: "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."

According to the RAC, the number of road police officers has reduced 27% from 2010 to 2015, which the company believes is a key factor to the sharp decline in fixed penalties issued; from a high of 125,500 in 2009 to just 52,400 in 2012.
"We need more rigorous enforcement of the law, increased penalties that act as a meaningful deterrent and a high profile advertising campaign that makes motorists fully aware of the serious consequences of using a handheld phone at the wheel of a vehicle," said Williams.

New findings released this month from a study conducted by the University of Sussex, supports the call for harsher punishments and revealed that talking on a hands-free phone can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile. The research found that conversations could cause the driver to use the part of the brain that normally watches the road to visually imagine their conversations, thus leading to a reduction in concentration and attention.

The road safety charity, Brake, is calling for a complete ban on mobile phone use in cars, citing the new research as proof that even hands-free calling is not safe.

Lucy Amos, research advisor for Brake said,"Distracted driving is a major cause behind road crashes; this new study is only the latest of many which adds weight to extending the existing legislation to cover all mobile phone use within a vehicle, not just the use of hand-held mobile devices. We call on the government to take action and remove the clear and present danger of mobile phones on our roads."      

The Freight Transport Association (FTA), although supportive of increasing safety while driving, believe phones can be useful tools for businesses.

FTA deputy chief executive, James Hookham said: "A lot of our members have policies that prohibit mobile phone use in lorry cabs or have zero tolerance to abuse - drivers will be dismissed if they break the law.

"But the nature of the transport industry means some operators need to stay in regular contact with their drivers, especially if they are making lots of deliveries during the day. Phones and telematics equipment are valuable tools, but safety is paramount. Essential phone conversations should be kept short and chatting should be discouraged."