Following a public consultation, the UK Government has announced it will increase the penalties for using a handheld phone while driving.
With the consultation indicating clear support for change, the government proposes to double the penalty for drivers caught using their phones at the wheel by increasing the fixed penalty fine from £100 to £200. Penalty points issued will also double from three to six for all drivers, with no differentiation between car drivers and HGV drivers. The government believes this will provide a stronger deterrent and means all drivers using a mobile phone will be treated equally seriously.
The government also proposes that a remedial course is no longer offered to first-time offenders as an alternative to a fixed penalty notice, in order to provide a stronger deterrent and change behaviour.
For vocational drivers, the doubling of fixed penalty points will have a greater impact as Traffic Commissioners can already revoke their HGV/PSV licence entitlement once six points are reached. Equally, under the New Drivers Act, novice drivers (who passed their test in the last two years) have their license revoked by the DVLA if they reach six points.
Responding to the new proposals, RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “We welcome stiffer penalties for handheld mobile phone use and believe this will send a very strong message to motorists. However, we believe this has to be done in conjunction with a heavyweight road safety campaign so we therefore welcome initial proposals for a new THINK! initiative. The RAC’s Report on Motoring 2016 identified that the problem is at epidemic proportions as almost half (48%) of motorists admitted to using a handheld phone at the wheel to talk, text or use other apps in the last year.
“Many drivers might be surprised that the Government is proposing doing away with the option for offenders to take a mobile phone awareness course. Police forces have been using such courses as an option and alternative to points and fines which demonstrates that they believe there is a need for better education of the risks and dangers. They are the ones tasked with enforcement when challenged with diminishing budgets so we would be interested if they believe that this approach will succeed.
“From 2017 taking a short call at the wheel or quickly checking your texts will have far greater consequences, particularly for anyone with existing points on their licence as they will suddenly be much closer to having their licence taken away. For new drivers a prosecution will mean instant disqualification as they only need six points within two years of gaining their licence to have it revoked by the DVLA.
“The Government, police, road safety and motoring organisations must accept some responsibility for failing to encourage motorists to change their behaviour and make handheld mobile phone use as socially unacceptable as drink-driving since it was made illegal in 2003.
“It has been allowed to go on for too long and we now need to send a shockwave out there and encourage any drivers still flouting the law to go cold turkey on handheld mobile phone use.”