Mobile phones are a ubiquitous part of modern life and have brought plenty of great benefits. But they are also a real issue on our roads, with too many motorists becoming distracted by their handsets.
That’s why the government introduced much harsher penalties for drivers caught using their phone at the wheel a year ago. What’s more, those laws have resulted in a sharp increase in motorists having their licences rescinded.
What are the new rules?
Before last March, if a police officer caught you using your mobile phone at the wheel then you could be subject to three points on your licence and a £100 fine.
However, the government felt this wasn’t tough enough, with research suggesting mobile phone use by drivers was increasing.
So from 1st March 2017 both the fine and points penalty were doubled to £200 and six points respectively.
In addition, drivers who were caught using their mobile twice or who accrued 12 points on their licence would face a magistrates’ court, potentially being disqualified from driving, and fines of up to £1,000.
New drivers - classed as those who passed their test within the previous two years - could have their licence revoked, while lorry and bus drivers could be suspended if caught.
Announcing the increased punishment, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said that while it may seem innocent, using a mobile phone at the wheel risked serious injury and even death both to the driver and other road users.
He added: “Everyone has a part to play in encouraging their family and friends not to use their phones while driving – it is as inexcusable as drink driving.”
Losing your licence
Following a Freedom of Information request from the Press Association, the DVLA revealed that 533 new drivers lost their licence as a result of using a mobile phone at the wheel in 2017, a significant increase on the 117 who suffered the same punishment the year before.
A further 447 were banned as a result of driving without due care and attention, which is another charge the police can use if they catch you on your phone at the wheel. This was also up year-on-year, rising from 401 in 2016.
However, the latest research from the RAC suggests there is still some way to go to eradicate the problem. Its Report on Motoring 2017 found that almost a quarter of motorists still make calls at the wheel, while 15% say the increased fine is not enough to make them stop.
Pete Williams, road safety spokesman at the RAC, said that for drivers who avoid using their phone at the wheel it was frustrating to see others blatantly flouting the law and putting people at serious risk.
He continued: “The numbers of drivers still using their handheld phones at the wheel remains at epidemic levels and is a serious problem for society. The Government, police and road safety organisations still have a huge job to do to end the handheld mobile phone menace.”
Separate research from the AA supports this. Its own study in January found that two-thirds of drivers believe they can get away with various driving offences because of a lack of a police presence on the roads.
More than half (54%) of the motorists surveyed said they did not think it was likely they would be caught or punished if they used their mobile phone while driving.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said it was “worrying” that so many drivers believed they could flout the law because of the lack of police on the roads.
He continued: “The AA and the Government are keen to stamp out using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving, but more than half feel it can be done with little chance of punishment.
“With a significant drop in specialist traffic officers, it may prove to be difficult to ensure safety to everyone on our roads.”