Road Safety News
 

Mobile phone penalties set to double - but will it be an effective deterrent?

Tuesday 28th February 2017

From tomorrow (1 March), the penalties for those caught using a mobile phone while driving double to six points and a £200 fine.

Announced by the Government last November, the rise in penalty points will mean an immediate ban for newly-qualified drivers who have a ceiling of six points for the first two years after passing the test.

The decision to increase the penalties follows a Government consultation, which concluded that there will be no differentiation between car and HGV drivers when it comes to punishment.

The Government’s consultation response also confirmed that a retraining course will not be offered to first-time offenders as an alternative to the fixed penalty notice FPN, which is intended to provide a strong deterrent and a powerful incentive to change behaviour.

The problem
According to the Government's THINK! campaign studies show that drivers using a hands-free or handheld mobile phone are slower to recognise and react to hazards.

Researchers in Australia found that drivers who use either a hands-free or handheld mobile are four times more likely to be involved in a collision, than those who are not distracted.

Figures published by the RAC in September 2016 suggested that 11m motorists admitted to making or receiving a call while driving in 12 months leading up to the publication of the data.

Is the move well supported?
According to the Government, yes. In the consultation response it says ‘there is clear support for change and increasing the fixed penalty notice for using a hand held mobile phone when driving’.

And that is a notion backed up by a recent Road Safety GB (Twitter) poll - in which 91% of 438 respondents expressed their support for the change. 7% of respondents disagreed, while 2% were not sure.

The move also has the unequivocal backing of road safety stakeholders, including Road Safety GB.

However, there are those in road safety who believe the increased penalties do not go far enough - a point acknowledged by the DfT in its consultation response.

But will it be effective?
Although the move is well supported, there are doubts as to whether it will be effective - highlighted by a separate Road Safety GB poll in which 53% of the 398 respondents answered ‘no’; with just 27% saying it would be effective, while 20% were not sure.

There are also doubts about whether drivers are aware that the law is changing. The results of a survey, reported yesterday (27 Feb) by BT news, suggest that 40% of drivers are unaware they face tougher punishments for the offence as of tomorrow.

However, over the coming days and weeks the matter will receive much publicity - including a new THINK! campaign which will highlight the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving and raise awareness of the change in penalties.

There are also doubts and concerns about how effectively the new penalties will be enforced by the dwindling number of specialist traffic police officers.

A parliamentary report into the enforcement of road laws (published in March 2016) concluded that the falling number of recorded crimes on Britain’s roads does not represent a reduction in offences being committed.

Instead the Transport Committee report suggests that motoring offences are not being detected due to a decline in the number of specialist traffic police officers. The report concludes that engineering and education “must be backed up by effective enforcement” with road users “knowing that infringements will be detected”.

Figures published in January by Auto Express revealed that the number of full-time traffic police operating in England and Wales has been cut by almost a third since 2010, while the RAC Report on Motoring 2015 revealed that 62% of drivers believe that there are insufficient police on the roads to enforce driving laws.

 

 

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It will only be effective if it's enforced. No matter what the penalties are for any crime it only has a deterrent effect if there is a high degree of certainty of detection and conviction. In 1800 - the period of the 'Bloody Code' when there were more than 100 offences on the Statute Book for which hanging was the penalty (including for theft of five shillings or more), public hangings attracted large audiences. There were warnings to beware of pickpockets, so in effect, pickpockets were going about their business committing capital offences whilst watching someone being hung for theft. Why? Because they were so skilled at their craft that they never got caught.

As to the risks posed by driving whilst on the phone, the Road Research Laboratory estimated the following levels of impairment on response times:
Drink Drive Limit: 13%
Cannabis: 21%
Hands Free Phone: 27%
Texting: 37%
Hand-Held Phone: 46%

For being at or above the drink drive limit, there's an automatic 12 months ban with no discretion by magistrates to wave that ban. There is wide acceptance that this is as it should be and if anything, the public support lower drink drive limits.

Yet even a hands-free phone has twice the level of impairment than does being at the drink drive limit yet it carries no penalty. A hand-held phone has more than three times the level of impairment, so why only £200 and six points - why not an immediate ban?

Modern cars have bigger and bigger screens and more gizmos. Really, if anyone is doing anything in their car which - if they did it on their driving test would cause them to fail, they'd best not do it.

Whatever government is in power, there are no votes in this so nothing much will change in my view.

Everyone managed quite happily without these distractions until 20 years ago, and millions such as myself mange that today. Personally, I'm too young to die and too old to have an accident.
David Taylor East Yorkshire

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)
+4

Hugh, on the face of it you make a good point. However, many frontline, bog-standard, Response Officers are so overworked running from one job to the next like one-armed paper-hangers, that they have neither the time, nor the inclination to get involved with traffic matters. They may not possess the specialist knowledge to ensure that the correct evidence is used to prove the offence, if it were contested in court. They probably do not have even the time to write the evidence by hand in a report, or on a FPN. All these factors, and many more, add up to the fact that inevitably there are horses for courses.
David, Suffolk

Agree (7) | Disagree (2)
+5

"...suggests that motoring offences are not being detected due to a decline in the number of specialist traffic police officers." Is spotting a driver using their phone so difficult that only 'specialist police officers' can do it? Of all the crimes and offences that the police have to deal with, motoring offences would seem to be the easiest to detect and it seems to me could be dealt with by any officer - even one who isn't a 'specialist'.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (3)
+6