Brake calls for stiffer fines and ban on hands-free mobiles

12.00 | 18 November 2013 | | 8 comments

Brake launched Road Safety Week with a call for hands-free phones to be banned from vehicles, and for penalties for using a phone while driving to increase from £100 to between £500-1,000.

Brake’s new campaign attracted widespread media attention, and Road Safety Week was supported by Robert Goodwill, roads minister, and ACPO who are coordinating a weeklong campaign targeting drivers using hand-held phones.

Almost exactly a decade after hand-held mobiles were banned at the wheel, Brake appealed to drivers to turn off their phone and urged everyone to refuse to speak on the phone to someone who is driving.

Brake said a Freedom of Information request showed more than 500,000 people have points on their licence for using a phone or being otherwise distracted.

The charity points to research which suggests that 98% of motorists are unable to divide their time without it affecting their driving ability. Brake also said that using a mobile phone, eating, drinking and smoking are all shown to increase the risk of a crash.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of Brake, said: "We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm. More and more of us have smartphones, and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute.

"While there are enormous benefits to this new technology, it’s also posing dangerous temptations to drivers to divert their concentration away from the critical task at hand, often putting our most vulnerable road users in danger.

"Many people who wouldn’t dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific."

A DfT spokesman said: "The Government is determined that police have the powers they need to tackle any form of dangerous driving, including anyone using a mobile phone at the wheel. That is why this year the fixed penalty for this offence was increased to £100 and carries three penalty points.

"Police can stop and arrest any driver if they believe they are not in charge of their vehicle, and this includes if the driver is using a hands-free mobile device.

"There are no plans to change the law around the use of hands-free devices but all penalties are kept under review to ensure they are appropriate."

Robert Goodwill, road safety minister, said: "The UK has one of the best road safety records in the world and improving this record remains a top priority for the Government. That is why we have increased fines for using a mobile at the wheel, made it easier for the police to tackle bad driving behaviour and we are looking at how we can improve young driver safety.”

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, national policing lead for roads policing, said: "As technology has advanced, we’ve seen a change in the behaviour of some drivers who are allowing themselves to become distracted and putting themselves and others at risk.

“While a phone call may be important for a few minutes, killing or seriously injuring someone has life changing consequences. While most road users are careful, considerate and law-abiding; a minority are not. Too many collisions are caused each year by those who use excessive speed, drive without a seatbelt, drink or drug drive, or are distracted at the wheel.

“Enforcement and awareness schemes are being carried out by police across the country as part of Road Safety Week, which is an ideal time for drivers to remember the dangers they can face, alongside an opportunity for forces to apprehend those who flout traffic laws."


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    If 500,000 people have been fined for phone distraction, then if it is so dangerous, why is there not been tens of thousand of accidents? Using cheap simulators in controlled laboratory conditions does not give ‘real world’ evidence, hence there is not a massive accident rate. Makes it easier for organisations like BRAKE to make emotive claims. Let us not forget that for many decades police, taxi drivers etc drove one handed using two way radios.

    Terry Hudson
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    If a phone is hands free then I don’t see how it is a problem, it is probably less distracting than talking to a passenger whom you may turn to look at.

    Sue Coleman Bolton
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    Put it in the boot – you can’t tamper with it then, and no chance of being distracted. It is still available if you need it to make an emergency call. Simples!

    Jane Doe, Essex
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    “More than 500,000 people have points on their licence for using a phone or being otherwise distracted”

    Another example of being “economical with the actualite”. Unless we know how many of those 500,000 were “otherwise distracted” it tells us nothing about how many were penalised for phone use. Last time I looked, the % was very very small. For many, in any case, being distracted by the phone is only a substitute for being distracted by other things. In the interest of certainty, I do not use a phone when driving and I disapprove of doing so – but what matters is how significant a causal factor it really is.

    Idris Francis Fight Back with Facts Petersfield
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    Using mobiles in vehicles whether hands free or not, should be banned full stop. There is a blatant disregard to the law on mobile phone use in vehicles, with younger drivers and lorry drivers being the worst culprits. You cannot talk on a mobile and expect to drive safely, 100% concentration is required while driving as there are enough distractions on our roads these days without the addition of using mobiles in vehicles. Being in the road safety business myself, I think it is one of the most stupid things a driver can do, so ban mobiles in vehicles full stop.

    Mike Hancox MD Colan Ltd Warwick
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    Dave: Nobody is saying that we won’t be able to carry ‘phones in our vehicles, so they will still be able to be used at the scene of an accident. I believe there is an exemption anyway for using a ‘phone whilst driving, if it is a 999 call. You’re quite right about their usefulness. It’s not really acknolwedged how valuable mobile ‘phones are at a road accident – not just in getting the emergency services on scene quickly – but getting possibly life-saving advice over the ‘phone. I’m sure they’ve played a part in the reduction of fatal crashes we’ve been experiencing over the last few years.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    The funny thing is that the rate of phone use (around 5%) is greater than the crash rate while on the phone (<1%). This means that, if you stand by a road chosen at random, drivers going past who are on the phone are less likely to crash than those not on the phone.

    Furthermore, mobile phones save lives. A critical factor in determining whether someone lives or dies is how fast the emergency services get to them (the golden hour). If Brake were successful and, as a result, many drivers made sure they did not have a phone in their car, it might take longer to alert the emergency services following a collision and more could die.

    Phones have both positive benefits and negative side effects. I'm not disagreeing with Brake, I'm just saying it's not that simple.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    Shouldn’t we be studying the 2% of drivers that ARE able to divide their time without it affecting their driving ability? What’s so special about these 600,000 people and what can we learn from them? If being constantly connected is the norm then what they could teach us could help save many lives.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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