New penalties fail to deter illegal phone users

New penalties fail to deter illegal phone users
A driver is caught using their mobile phone every seven minutes, in spite of tougher penalties for the illegal offence coming into force.

In the four weeks since re-enforced punishments for handheld use behind the wheel took effect, UK police forces have penalised nearly 6,000 motorists – over 200 a day.

The figure, obtained following a Freedom of information (FOI) request from the Press Association, is likely to be higher still – with seven forces not responding, plus the likelihood some incidents weren’t logged in time.

READ MORE: Mobile phone driving laws – your questions answered

Since March 1, drivers found using their handheld device behind the wheel – whether for calls, messages or social media – have faced receiving six points on their licence and a £200 fine, a doubling of the previous penalty in place.

The changes mean new drivers risk losing their licence for sending a single text.

In this latest major crackdown, 5,977 instances of the illegal practice were recorded by police, with the greatest amount being registered by the Metropolitan Police (2,037).

Other forces to log significant figures include Thames Valley Police (478), Police Scotland (339), Hampshire Police (280) and Cheshire Police (224).

The RAC says while the numbers are a concern, they are sadly not surprising. Earlier in the year it pointed to figures which suggest an obsession with ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) has intensified in the social media era, and is now spilling over into the time spent behind the wheel. 

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “The RAC identified that the use of a handheld mobile phone by drivers to talk, text, tweet and even take photographs is at epidemic proportions and it is going to take a combination of factors to get the message across that anyone breaking the law will be caught and prosecuted.

“Regrettably drivers do not feel they are likely to be stopped by a traffic officer for any motoring offence so there is an uphill struggle to change behaviours.

“That’s why we have launched the BePhoneSmart pledge website to encourage people to make a promise to stop using their handheld phone when driving and to share it with friends and family.”

READ MORE: Social star Anto Sharp signs #BePhoneSmart pledge

Campaigners say the latest worrying findings suggest many drivers are “selfishly” ignoring repeated warnings about the dangers of using phones at the wheel despite the risk of harsher sanctions.

Brake spokesman Jack Kushner wants the £200 fine to be “significantly increased” to deter offenders, while police have said they want to ensure using a mobile while driving is thought of in the same bracket as drink-driving.

In 2015, there were 22 deaths and 99 serious injuries caused by mobile phone related accidents on the UK’s roads, Department for Transport figures show.

Among the latest spate of incidents, police spotted a man attending to his online banking on the M5 near Birmingham, while the driver of a school minibus in Manchester was also found on his phone.

Copyright Press Association 2017. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.