Government to double penalties for mobile phone offences

12.00 | 18 September 2016 | | 12 comments

The penalty for using a hand held mobile phone while driving is to double from three points and a £100 fine to six points and a £200 fine.

Although there has been no official government announcement, the move has been widely reported in the media across the weekend, with the new penalties expected to come into force in the first half of 2017.

The increase in penalty points would mean an immediate ban for newly-qualified drivers who have a ceiling of six points for the first two years after passing the test.

While the move has been broadly welcomed by road safety and motoring organisations, concerns have been voiced about the police’s ability to enforce it.

Talking to BBC News, Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said detection rates need to be higher.

However, Jayne Willetts of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "Unfortunately, with fewer officers out on the roads, more of these offences are going undetected."

The Guardian says the DfT is currently working on a new ‘hard hitting’ THINK! campaign.

The RAC says the increased penalties are in response to figures it published last week which suggest mobile phone use by drivers has reached ‘epidemic proportions’.

The RAC findings, published in the 2016 RAC Report on Motoring, suggest a significant worsening in both attitude and behaviour among drivers to using a mobile for making calls and checking social media.

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “The Government’s swift action to the findings in the RAC Report on Motoring shows they understand just how dangerous it can be to use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel.

“Increasing the fine from £100 to £200 and doubling the penalty points from three to six will help to deter people from doing it.”



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    I suspect it’s not so much ‘intelligent people still believe that there is simply not an issue with phone use when driving’ (I think deep down they probably do) – it’s more a libertarian knee-jerk stance to automatically criticise and oppose a new law and then hope to find reasons to justify that stance later. Won’t be the first time on this forum.

    Hugh Jones,Cheshire
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    I do not wish this in any way to seem a personal comment, but Dave Finney’s comments show him to use statistics in much the same way as a drunk uses a lamppost, i.e. more for support, than illumination. Others have made a more sensible analysis of the figures and drawn more appropriate conclusions about the quality of investigation involved in more serious crashes and the reliability of self-reporting.

    We have a very long way to go on this subject if some intelligent people still believe that there is simply not an issue with phone use when driving. I approve of the increased penalties, but we need a return to the old methods of the three Es. The Govt. needs to spend serious money on educating people on the subject and then go on to give drivers a real belief that they will be caught through funding an increase in roads policing. Engineering is also helping through technology, but it needs to be driven by a widespread conviction that phone use when driving is wrong.

    David, Suffolk
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    Rod, shouldn’t knee-jerk and evidence-defying populist legislation of the 21st century get the same treatment as similarly disgraceful medieval legislation? Shouldn’t it be wholeheartedly condemned and not complacently tolerated simply because “it is the law”?

    Charles, England
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    I think that what you are missing is some of those distractions society has deemed legal and some it has not. As drivers taking out a license we agree to do so in a manner that is legal.

    Clearly using a hand-held phone, regardless of the level of distraction and your views of the acceptability of other distractions, is illegal.

    Those who drive in a manner that ignores the rules set down by society should expect to lose that license.

    Rod King, Cheshire, 20’s Plenty for Us
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    I do wish people stop conflating the words “speeding” with driving at a speed unsuitable/unsafe for the road in question, it puts forward the idea that driving around a sharp, blind bend at 60mph is something that is regarded as “safe”, and therefore “permissible”.

    But back on topic, I agree with Rod, it’s the distraction, not the device itself that’s the issue. How is using a hand-held mobile phone in an automatic car on a motorway any different to someone resting an arm on the window? (seeing as both involve one arm on the steering wheel)

    How is the above scenario any different to changing the driver profile in a car on the move – potentially changing steering wheel angle and depth, seat position etc. (seeing as both involve fiddling with things within the car)

    It does feel like we’re demonising mobile phone usage over other hazards.

    David Weston, Corby
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    I sometimes wonder if some contributors on this forum ever go out and observe real people using the roads. As I’ve said many times, forget the statistics, forget supposed contributory factors, we need to use our eyes and common sense to understand how driver behaviour leads to collisions (real world evidence) and quite rightly address those through heavier penalties.

    A ‘phone user is typically also a speeder and tailgater – the two biggest problems on the roads – so the more points these people can accumulate through increased penalties, the sooner they can be off our roads.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Dave has identified a big problem here which is that without a clear understanding of what the published statistics really mean you can very quickly draw false conclusions.
    The surveys of mobile phone use are largely carried out at traffic lights when vehicles are stationary, times at which motorists are more likely to use their phones (making calls or using other features). This does over-estimate their use a little with the moving vehicle figure standing at 1.6%.

    By far the biggest problem though is the figure for CF508 which corresponds to ‘driver using mobile phone’. The total figure is 0.37% of all crashes but rises to 1.38% for fatal crashes (Source: MAST Professional 2011-2015). Where there is a large discrepancy between the two figures it’s due to a CF that has a disproportionally high influence on the most serious crashes, or a reporting problem. In this case my money is tilting towards a reporting problem based on two explanations. 1) Self-reported use of mobile phones by crash-involved drivers is low, 2) Police officers will not tick a CF box unless they have evidence, especially with regard to injudicious actions. More thorough investigations take place for fatal collision which is why the percentages rise.

    I suspect the RAIDS database will have much better answer for mobile phone use but I haven’t carried out the analysis myself.

    I understand the DfT are intending to review the collection of CF data in the future but I don’t know if this will cover the reliability of CF508 or CF306 (exceeding speed limit) which are both well-known to be under-reported in STATS19. In the meantime be very wary of quoting CF data.

    Richard Owen – Banbury
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    Perhaps I could take a different perspective. Mobile phone usage is about creating an impairment to the ability to control a driven vehicle. Impairment can be caused by many factors such as:

    3 kids in the back that are squabbling.
    Finding the right CD and track.
    Speed that takes away the time and distance in which to react and for vehicle brakes/steering to respond.
    Drugs/Alcohol in the blood.
    Poorly maintained/malfunctioning vehicle.
    Using a mobile phone either hands-free or in-hand
    Selecting a new route on a satnav.
    Texting messages.

    Some of these are inevitable in a real world and we cannot control them as incidents (eg children). We may not be able to prevent them, but can control how we deal with them. Indeed some speed is essential otherwise there is no journey.

    But what we do have is a choice of deciding which of these impairments is acceptable and whether they should be limited in anyway.

    If we presume that society does reflect its attitudes in the laws it sets then it should be prepared to set adequate penalties as a deterrence to drivers who culpably impair their driving beyond what those laws allow.

    Rod King, Cheshire, 20’s Plenty for Us
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    Yes certainly Simon. To know if a behavior is dangerous, we start by finding out if there is a correlation with collisions, and that needs two figures:
    1) The rate the behavior occurs
    2) The rate the behavior features in collisions

    For mobile phone use we have both of these. Many surveys have been done and here’s one that states that mobile phone use was at: “a 2.4% usage rate for Great Britain”. We also know that Mobile phone use was involved in 0.33% of collisions nationally in 2012.

    For comparison, do the same for drink drive. We have to estimate the rate the behavior occurs so perhaps 5% drivers get drunk for perhaps 5% of their annual mileage. That’s 0.25% of miles driven drunk with Driver/Rider impaired by alcohol at 4.3% (2012). This suggests drink drive is around 17 times more dangerous than sober driving.

    There is a clear correlation of collisions with drink drive, but there is no correlation of collisions with mobile phone use. I know this is surprising, and certainly counter-intuitive, but there is clearly something serious wrong with the official model for road safety. We have a choice, continue with “doing something”, or start using an evidence-led approach.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    “the accident rate when drivers are using their phones is actually lower than when they are not”

    Care to share that evidence Dave?

    Simon Jenkins – Milton Keynes
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    Dave: Please see my response to Charles of England’s similar question in the other current thread in the news feed on this subject, which explains the ‘phone use/collision potential scenario. I know it’s a cliche, but it isn’t rocket science to understand.
    There’s nothing ‘seriously wrong’ here at all, although as a phrase, I agree it does make for a dramatic attention-grabbing opener to a comment.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    There is something seriously wrong here. If “mobile phone use by drivers has reached ‘epidemic proportions’”, then there should be a similar and clear epidemic of crashes as a result. But there isn’t. In fact the accident rate when drivers are using their phones is actually lower than when they are not. There may be several reasons for this such as: over-compensation of attention levels, self-selection by opportunity and ability, reduction in stress through communicating ETAs etc. Whatever is happening, road safety is not as simple as we want it to be.

    In road safety, as seems often the case in politics, we must be seen to be doing “something” and these new mobile-phone penalties are “something”. The real question here is: “wouldn’t we rather have evidence-led policies”?

    Dave Finney, Slough
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