Drivers caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel will face six penalty points and a £200 fine as part of Government efforts to crack down on dangerous driving. But will it work? We’ve asked experts whether they think the new stricter penalties – due to come into force in early 2017 across England, Scotland and Wales – are the answer to stopping drivers using phones.
Repeat offenders will face a six-month driving ban alongside fines of up to £ly000, and newly-qualified drivers would lose their licence immediately. But the RAC says harsher penalties aren’t the only solution, with a cultural change regarding using phones at the wheel required among motorists and law makers. Latest figures show attitudes to mobile phone use while driving have relaxed in the last two years, with those who think it’s acceptable doubling from seven to 14 per cent, despite the punishment already being set at three points and a £100 fine. The share of drivers checking social media in stationary traffic has also increased from 14 per cent in 2014 to 20 per cent today.
An estimated 11 million people admit to driving and using a phone in the last year, and five million say they’ve taken photos or videos. That’s despite mobile phone use while driving being identified as a contributory factor in 21 road deaths and 384 serious accidents in the UK in 2014. One of the biggest reasons drivers said they were happy to use their phones was the belief that they wouldn’t be caught, so will tougher laws realty have an impact? And, if not, what’s the solution? Here’s what some leading motoring experts told Auto Express they’d like to see done to tackle the issue…A
A research shows 46 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old drivers would pick up the phone if it rang. All effective road safety campaigns in the past -for example on seatbelts or drink-driving – comprised of new laws, targeted information campaigns and more cops in cars to enforce the law. Roadside tests by the Transport Research Laboratory showed better compliance when there were TV and radio adverts highlighting the dangers. Increased enforcement, harsher penalties and advertising are needed to end the current phone addiction. We need all drivers to realise using a phone at the wheel puts them and others in danger.
Higher fines and education will convince some waverers, but not the hardened users – it’s the same with any crime.
High-profile policing also has a part to play, but there are no signs from the Government that roads policing is moving up the long list of crime priorities.
For the white van man or the 24/7 executive, responsibility starts with the employer. Setting a no-calls policy and enforcing it can be done, but it needs commitment at all levels. A mobile phone awareness course should be the default option for the first offender. Speed awareness courses show less repeat offending.
For many years it has been possible to dick a flight-safe icon on your smartphone when boarding an aeroplane. Wouldn’t it be helpful if all our phones came with a similarly simple and useful option already installed – a ‘drive-safe’ mode, allowing certain connected functions to work, like sat-nav, but disabling or switching to voice only for others? With two-thirds of the UK population now owning a smartphone, and three in five drivers indicating they would be happy to use a Vehicle safe mode’ on external devices in cars, the time could have arrived for such technology for mobile phones.
Some police officers don’t even want to give people a ticket for using their mobile phone while driving because they don’t want the hassle of going to court. People are greatly inconvenienced without their phones. Why not allow us to seize the phone and return it after the fine is paid? I’d like to see offenders attend a course where they see at first hand the consequences of using mobile phones – the families left devastated, the carnage at the scene where someone crashes. The insurance industry could also get on board, treating drivers with endorsement points similar to those with drink-drive convictions.
There are two simple ways to reduce phone use by drivers – remove their mobiles or their ability to drive. Of these, the former is clearly the more workable solution. Why shouldn’t those who have been caught be made to forfeit their phones for a period of time? It would undoubtedly act as a deterrent for many, which is surely what we need. Longer-term, better education has to be the answer. Should there be graphic TV campaigns? Could offenders be made to attend phone awareness courses? Could phone packaging carry warnings like cigarette packets do? More can be done to make phone use while driving socially unacceptable.