PENALTIES and fines for those using their mobile phone illegally when driving will be doubled to six points and £200 respectively from today. New drivers face losing their licence the first time they are caught as licences are revoked if a motorist receives six penalty points within their first two years on the road.
The measures come after research suggested the practice was widespread. Twenty-two people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents on Britain’s roads in 2015 where a motorist using a mobile was a factor.
Pete Williams, road safety spokesman for the RAC, said: “The Government’s swift action to the findings in the RAC Report on Motoring shows they understand just how dangerous it can be to use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. Increasing the fine from £100 to £200 and doubling the penalty points from three to six will help to deter people from doing it in the first place.
“However, it is just as important that laws are seen to be enforced, and the decline in the numbers of dedicated road traffic police has only heightened the feeling that those who use a handheld phone while driving simply get away with it.”
A new cinema and online campaign by the the AA Charitable Trust and Think! shows a couple leaving a nightclub by car. The ‘designated driver’ starts to reply to a text only for her boyfriend, who is under the influence of alcohol, to suggest they swap places.
It comes as a new survey by the AA showed one fifth (21%) of motorists don’t turn off their phones before driving, while more than half of young drivers (51%) can’t bring themselves to switch off behind the wheel. The worst offenders live in London or Northern Ireland (25%), according to the poll.
Since 2011 the number of casualties caused by drivers distracted by their mobile phones has increased by a quarter (24%), according to the breakdown company.
Edmund King OBE, AA president, said: “Too many drivers are addicted to their phones. Half of young drivers can’t bear to turn them off in the car. If they don’t switch off their phones they could lose their licence with the new six penalty points.
“We need to break this addiction and the best way is for drivers to go cold turkey – turn off the phone and put it in the glove box.”
The dangers of using mobile phones at the wheel have been highlighted by the industry for some time. In 2014 Volkswagen launched a campaign called Eyes on the Road.
In the same year, the Sunday Times launched its own campaign citing research that showed using a mobile phone slowed reactions more than cannabis or alcohol. The campaign called for harsher penalties for motorists caught driving and texting, and for the government to raise public awareness of the issue. It also asked for the police to make routine checks on drivers’ phone records at crash scenes.
Using a mobile phone while driving was found to be the nation’s most hated driving habit, according to a survey by Kwik Fit.
In 2015, Driving highlighted the issue again, visiting the Transport Research Laboratory to conduct tests on distracting technology. It was found that a new generation of wearable tech, including smart watches, poses an even greater risk to road safety.