The government has published a new road safety plan which includes proposals to increase penalties for drivers caught using a mobile phone, and allowing learner drivers on motorways.
The government hopes that the plan will "build on Britain’s excellent road safety record". All the specific proposals announced in the plan will be discussed in a series of consultations during 2016.
With regard to mobile phone offences, the vast majority of first time offenders will not incur a fixed penalty notice or penalty points but will instead be offered an educational course, at the discretion of the police.
For the majority of drivers and riders (cars, vans, motorbikes) the current three penalty points will be increased to four and the fine will increase from £100 to £150.
For drivers of larger vehicles such as HGVs, where the consequences of a collision can be much more severe, the penalty points will increase from the current three to six.
Other measures announced include £50m of funding to train the next generation of cyclists through the Bikeability scheme; and a £750,000 grant in 2015/16 for police forces in England and Wales to help them build drug-driving enforcement capability.
The road safety plan also includes the following:
• Consulting on options for a drug-drive rehabilitation scheme course and a high-risk offenders regime for drug-drivers.
• Consulting on legislative changes to improve urban cycle safety by ensuring that side guards and rear under-run devices are not removed from HGVs, but remain permanently fitted.
• Consulting on proposals to support safety for motorcyclists, who account for 19% of all road deaths, including better training and improved safety equipment.
• Consulting on ways to incentivise and reward the uptake of more pre-test practice, as first announced in the government’s motoring services strategy consultation on 13 November
• Undertaking a £2m research programme to identify the best possible interventions for learner and novice drivers.
• Providing a broader range of ‘real-world’ driving experiences for learner drivers, including deregulating to allow approved driving instructors with dual-controlled cars to offer lessons on motorways.
• Undertaking a road safety management capacity review, to identify areas for improved joint working, local innovation and efficiency.
The RAC says the use of mobile phones by drivers is one of motorists’ top safety concerns, and in October it expressed concern over “a worrying mismatch” between the level of mobile phone offences motorists see happening on the roads, and the number of prosecutions
Talking to the Telegraph, Patrick McLoughlin (pictured), transport secretary, said: “Using a mobile phone at the wheel is reckless and costs lives – I want to see it become a social taboo like not wearing a seatbelt.
“We will take action to tackle this persistent problem, with an emphasis on the most serious offenders. The message is clear: keep your hands on the wheel, not your phone. If you keep taking calls while at the wheel, you could end up being banned from the road.”
Iain Temperton, Road Safety GB director of communications, said: "It is encouraging that DfT have seen fit to publish their proposals; this is an excellent ‘heads up’ for all of us who wish to influence the thinking in these processes.
"As the consultations are published we need to provide balanced and factual argument to further promote advances in road safety.
"No doubt our newsfeed will provide a forum for discussion of each of the issues, but we will also be engaging with central government to let them have our views as an organisation, on behalf of the road safety profession."
Talking to the Guardian, Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, welcomed the move. “One in five young drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test so putting the learning process under the spotlight has to be a good thing,” he said.
“Mile for mile, motorways are our safest roads but can be intimidating places for novice drivers. Exploring ways of letting learners have controlled access to them is welcome. The important thing is the official seal of approval provided by the approved driving instructor who will accompany them down the slip road. This is definitely not the time to have mum or dad in the passenger seat.”