People unable to resist the lure of their mobile phone while at the wheel of their car are paying a higher price, including an outright ban for new drivers.
Back in March this year, the penalties for getting caught using a handheld mobile phone while driving were toughened up as a stronger deterrent against committing the potentially life-threatening offence. The changes followed hundreds of incidents – including fatal and serious road crashes – where drivers using mobile phones have found to be a significant contributory factor.
Previously the offence carried three penalty points and a fine which had risen steadily from £30 when the offence was introduced in 2003, to £100 in 2013. On March 1st this year, the fine was doubled to £200 and the offence now incurs six penalty points. In addition, offenders are no longer offered the option of taking a driver awareness course instead of the fine and penalty points.
The new punishment means that just two offences will take a driver to the maximum 12 penalty points, triggering an automatic driving ban under the ‘totting up’ system, and for newly qualified drivers the risk is even greater.
For the first two years after passing their test, drivers can have their licence revoked after a first offence, which means re-applying for a provisional licence and re-taking the driving test. Those who get six points in the first two years automatically lose their licence, so just one mobile phone offence means a ban.
According to figures just released, 290 newly-qualified drivers lost their licences in this way during the first six months since the new penalties were introduced. In total, 15,752 drivers received the new six points and £200 fine during the six-month period, the number of convictions up by 515 compared to the same period in 2016.
Even then, many road safety experts say this number of convictions represents just a fraction of the true number of drivers who routinely commit the offence. Numbers would be much higher, they suggest, if road policing units were given the resources to enforce the law on mobile phone driving more vigorously.
For new drivers, who have invested considerable time and hundreds of pounds to pass their driving test, the true cost of getting caught is much higher than the £200 fine. As well as the squandering that previous investment, they will have to fork out to retake both the theory and practical elements of the driving test, maybe more than once. Being convicted of the offence will also be reflected in significantly higher insurance premiums.
It could mean thousands of pounds in extra expense, all because they couldn’t resist making or taking a call, or dealing with a text while behind the wheel. Some drivers still think it is permissible to do so while stuck in congestion or waiting at traffic lights, but they are wrong.
Pete Williams, safety spokesman for the RAC, said it was disappointing to see so many new drivers banned and back to square one: “These people have spent hours and hours and hundreds of pounds learning to drive to gain their personal freedom, only to throw it all away through this foolish behaviour. The only consolation is that they now won't be involved in some horrific crash caused by the distraction of a handheld mobile phone.”
Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, road policing lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, stressed that driving while using a handheld mobile phone was not a “minor offence”. He urged drivers, especially younger ones, to think long and hard about their driving habits as a moment’s distraction could lead to a lifetime of loss and regret if it resulted in an accident.
“Our message is simple,” he said. “Don’t do it.”