Increased mobile phone penalties: one year on

Posted 01/03/2018 : By: Tim Ridyard

It is 12 months since the increase from three to six penalty points for a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device offence, with a fixed penalty offer raised from £100 to £200. What impact has this had?

When the increased power was introduced it had certain consequences:-

  • greater likelihood of “totting up” (accumulating 12 or more penalty points within a three year offending period leading to a minimum six months driving disqualification)
  • automatic revocation of licence for new drivers (within two years of passing their test)
  • commercial drivers: greater likelihood of suspension of vocational licences by Traffic Commissioners who regard committing such offences as wholly inconsistent with the requirement to be fit to drive large goods and passenger vehicles.

Figures issued by the Department for Transport confirm 26,000 motorists have been caught since 1 March 2017, of which 500 were probationary drivers in their first two years of driving so had their licences automatically removed by DVLA. Almost 2,000 drivers were caught in a national campaign in one week in January 2018, 74% of whom were male.

Is the actual mis-use of mobile phones and other handheld devices actually decreasing? This is complicated by not knowing the total illegal use and also the impact of the very significant reduction in police officers engaged in road policing. In March 2016 the Commons Transport Select Committee stated that the falling number of recorded crimes on roads did not represent a reduction in the offences actually being committed. Their finding was that as the number of traffic police fell, so too had the number of offences detected. These findings were reported prior to the increased penalties for mobile phone offences.

When is the offence committed? It covers calls, texts and social media. The Crown Prosecution Service approach is as follows:

"A phone or device will be in use where it is making or receiving a call, or performing any other interactive communication function whether with another person or not.

The particular use to which the mobile phone must be put is not defined as an element of the offence. The prosecution must merely prove that the phone or the other device was hand held by the person at some point during its use at a time when the person was driving a vehicle on a road."

The law relating to what constitutes using a mobile phone or other communication device is not currently entirely satisfactory. What is the real difference between typing a number into a car dashboard and typing it into a mobile phone in a cradle whilst holding it? They are all distractions, after all. A review of the law in this area so there is a truly consistent and coherent approach might be beneficial.

Of course, mis-use of mobile phones and other handheld devices are not found in one particular offence. Any use of them that is a distraction can also be part of any dangerous or careless driving-related offence with much greater penalties. Drivers need to be on notice that there will soon be introduced an offence of causing serious injury by careless driving – this may very well turn out to be one deployed regularly by the police for incidents in which mobile phones have been the cause of or contributed to an accident.

The Department for Transport has announced:

To coincide with the first anniversary of the new penalties, THINK! is highlighting the chances of being caught in adverts, which will appear on radio, social media, on demand video and in shopping centres, as part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the dangers.’

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