New technology is being trialled to deter drivers using handheld mobile phones at the wheel.

Use your mobile while driving on some roads in Norfolk, where the trial is taking place, and a road sign will activate as you pass, giving a flashing visual message to prompt you to stop using your phone.

The signs are designed to remind motorists that using a phone when driving is illegal and dangerous. Number plates on offending driver’s cars will not be recorded, although Norfolk County Council, which is running the pilot, expects this to happen in the future.

Inspector Jonathan Chapman, from Norfolk Roads Policing unit, said: “Any scheme which prevents this kind of behaviour is welcomed.  Using a mobile phone at the wheel is one of the fatal four road offences which can have devastating consequences if it causes a fatal or serious collision.”

The developers of the technology say it’s the first of its kind to be used on UK roads. It can detect if a driver is using Bluetooth, in which case it won’t trigger the warning sign. It can’t distinguish between a passenger of driver using a mobile phone. But manufacturer Westcotec said it expects the vast majority of activations to relate to drivers, not their passengers.

Changing public attitudes to driver phone use

The trial of the tech comes amid increasing concern about handheld mobile phone use at the wheel. The proportion of Brits who believe that it’s not safe to talk on hand-held mobile phones while driving hit 70% in 2017, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, up from 56% in 2007.

Last year, 533 new drivers lost their licence as a result of using a mobile phone at the wheel, according to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), up from 117 in 2016. 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.

The government has taken steps to clamp down on the problem. In March 2017, it introduced harsher penalties for drivers caught using their phone at the wheel, with the fine and points penalty doubled to £200 and six points respectively.

In addition, drivers caught using their mobile twice or who accrue 12 points on their licence, will 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.

Lack of awareness

A survey by the RAC, published in June, showed that almost two thirds of UK drivers aren’t aware of the penalties for using handheld phones at the wheel.

The survey found support for the following deterrents:

  • More visible enforcement of the law (supported by 41% of respondents)
  • Even harsher penalties for offenders (22%)
  • Blocking mobile phone signals within cars (18%)

To read more about road safety go to Solved.