Despite tough new penalties being introduced for drivers using a handheld mobile phone, it seems that the message is still not getting through to everyone.
Recent media reports indicate that hundreds of drivers are caught flouting the law each day. And, whilst it might seem inconceivable that they are ignorant of the law itself, not everyone is aware that the penalties are now tougher than ever before.
The new law, which was introduced in March of this year, doesn’t alter the offence itself, but it does increase both the fine and penalty points resulting from a successful conviction.
In short, both the fine and the number of points has been doubled, which means that drivers can expect to pay a £200 fine and accrue 6 penalty points if they call, text or otherwise use a handheld device whilst behind the wheel.
This could be especially problematic for newly qualified drivers, as incurring 6 penalty points within the first two years of passing their test will see them lose their license. Any driver who is caught on more than one occasion could see themselves in court facing a £1,000 fine and at least a six month driving ban. If convicted, they will need to declare the offence to insurers for four years.
Remember, this is not just about making or receiving a phone call. The law relates to almost any interaction with your phone. This means that in addition to talking on the phone, you must not text, check emails, take photos, check social media, browse the internet, or use any other function of your phone.
In fact, the only acceptable use is when needing to call 999 and it is either unsafe or impractical to stop. Even if you car is stationery, the engine must be switched off before picking up a device.
Although the law is primarily thought of as relating to mobile phones, it also applies to any other handheld device which could distract the drivers attention, such as satellite navigation, even if you are stopped in traffic or at the lights.
It’s worth noting that there is an increasing body of evidence which shows that there is little or no reduction in risk when using a hands-free device. Primarily this is because the risks relate to a driver’s attention being distracted by listening and talking, rather than being fully focused on the road ahead, vehicles or pedestrians around them. As a result, drivers using a hands-free phone can still be charged with ‘failing to have proper control of their vehicle’.
It may be that at some point even hands-free devices are banned, but for now the safest course of action is to turn your device off before getting behind the wheel.