From 1st March 2017, penalties in England are set to harden for drivers caught using a mobile phone while driving. 2016 saw a major toughening of existing legislation to enforce the ban on driving while using a mobile – with up to 40 fines being issued an hour across the country. Now fines and penalty points are both set to double to £200 and 6 points, while recently passed drivers will face losing their license altogether.
Nearly 8,000 fines were issued in November 2016 alone as a result of the crackdown announced as part of a plan to make driving while using a phone ‘as unacceptable as drunk driving’. By comparison, a similar operation in May 2016 caught 2,690, and in September 2015 2,276 people were caught and prosecuted by police across the country.
It’s been illegal to use a mobile phone at the wheel since 2003, however penalties have varied. As of March they will be harsher than ever before – with a maximum fine of £1,000 in court, or £2,500 for some larger vehicles. The hardening of sentences for distracted driving are in response to increased serious collisions and increased road traffic. Solicitors stress the importance of compliance and careful driving – not just avoiding using a phone but any distraction – including hands-free, smoking, eating or listening to loud music. 117 ‘distraction’ offences besides mobile phone use were recorded in November 2016.
Yet it has been suggested by campaign groups that the problem may be more than attitudinal- car safety charity Handsoff claims the responsibility lies with manufacturers to clamp down on entertainment systems and other disruption inside their vehicles.
The fear is that the rise of mobile technology bears more of the blame – more than just irresponsible driving on the part of the public. Statistics suggest the number of drivers using mobile phones rose 23% from 2014-2016. However, whether increased prominence of portable devices is more of a factor is unclear.
Indeed, PC Derek Kitcher of Gwent Police suggested to the BBC last year that social media was more of a risk than phone calls – suggesting a still broader problem.
Whether the new penalties set to arriving in March will curb the number of deaths on the road linked to distracted drivers, or whether incidents continue to rise remains to be seen, however the clear commitment from the government has been shown to clamping down on cases of easily avoidable deaths amongst road traffic.
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