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Harsher penalties for driving whilst on your phone on the mainland UK


Posted on 24/03/17

From the 1st of March 2017, increased penalties came into effect for driving whilst using a mobile phone in England, Scotland and Wales. We at ChilliDrive wanted to investigate why the government is introducing this new law, how it impacts young drivers and what this could mean for drivers here in Northern Ireland. 

So what is the law?

UK wide, it's illegal to use a handheld mobile when driving. This includes using your phone to follow a map, read a text or check social media. This applies even if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

It is also illegal to use a handheld phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver.

You can only use a handheld phone if you are safely parked or need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.

What happens if you get caught?

In England, Scotland and Wales the punishment if you get caught has gotten tougher with penalty points doubling from three to six and fines doubling from £100 to £200.

If you are a young driver and you get more than 6 points in your first two years of driving you will have your licence revoked, so if you getting caught using your mobile phone while driving this will mean you will lose your licence and need re-sit your test.

In Northern Ireland, whilst it is illegal to use your phone when driving, the punishment is currently much lighter as drivers will get three penalty points and a £60 fine. However, it’s important for all Northern Irish drivers to note that if they are driving in the rest of the UK, they too will be slapped with the harsher penalties if stopped for using their mobile. 

Why is the punishment so harsh?

The reality is, even if you think you are okay to drive and use your phone, the numbers say otherwise.

The UK road safety charity Think say that if you use your phone when driving, you are four times more likely to be in a crash and even more shockingly, if you text and drive, your reactions are twice as slow than if you drink and drive. 

Incredibly, even though drivers know the dangers, more and more are using our phones behind the wheel! 

The RAC’s Report on Motoring 2016 found that the number of drivers who own up to using a handheld mobile phone has increased from 8% in 2014 to 31% in 2016.

And the numbers of drivers sending a text, email or posting on social media, has increased from 7% in 2014 ago to 19% in 2016.

It’s thought that as many as 11 million UK motorists could now be making or receiving a call while driving and an astonishing five million taking photos or videos.

Is it becoming socially acceptable behaviour?

Recently there have been some high profile examples of celebs driving and using their phones. In October 2016, former Corrie actor Ryan Thomas was slated for making Snapchat videos of his 8 year old daughter singing whilst driving.  Man United footballer Pogba has also been spotted driving his high powered Audi with his phone in hand.

Could these news stories of these so-called role models brazenly flouting the law be normalising what is incredibly dangerous behaviour?

Lorry driver Tomasz Kroker made headline news in 2016, when he tragically killed Tracy Houghton and her daughter in 50mph crash whilst using his mobile phone in, what should have been a wake-up call to all drivers about the fatal consequences of distracted driving. Harrowing dashcam footage captures the moments leading up to the crash with Kroker repeatedly glancing over to read his phone before ploughing into the cars stopped in front of him. 

Following on from this tragedy, the government has introduced new harsher penalties to change public perception of driving whilst using your mobile and make the punishment more in line with similarly reckless behaviour such as drink driving. 

Is it fair that the penalties have a greater impact on young drivers?

These new rules will undoubtedly have the biggest impact on young drivers. In England, Scotland and Wales, if you have passed your test within the last 2 years and are caught using a phone whilst driving, this will result in an instant loss of licence. 

We are in contact with lots of young drivers across NI with our Respect the Road workshop and know that many are well aware of the risks and are incredibly careful drivers.

Unfortunately, this is not true of all young drivers and the reality is young and inexperienced drivers are already much more likely to be involved in an accident with one in four (23%) young drivers aged 18-24 are involved in a crash within two years of passing their driving test. 

Younger drivers also tend to be over confident in their driving, poor at assessing risks and have a reduced ability to anticipate hazards effectively. 

It’s for these reasons that most ad campaigns for distracted driving are targeted at younger drivers and the punishments have a much more detrimental impact. 

Does it work?

In the first week of the new penalties coming into effect, 2,720 drivers in London alone were caught on their phones. A similar week long crackdown in November 2016 saw 5,000 motorists caught. 

These startling figures give a sense of the scale of the problem, but also indicate that the change in the law and the intensified media campaign surrounding are having some impact on driving these numbers down. 

Whether this translates to fewer accidents remains to be seen. With funding problems across the UK it’s also unclear whether the police will have the resources to enforce the new law as heavily in the future especially in more rural areas.  

Do we need these harsher penalties in NI?

This is undoubtedly a massive problem in Norther Ireland with the Belfast Telegraph reporting that over 40,000 drivers having been caught using their mobile phone at the wheel in the last five years. That means police are catching 22 offenders every day - despite repeated warnings about the dangers.

This is already on the Radar of NI politicians with former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard having asked officials to review Northern Ireland's legislation saying, 

"I want to make the use of a mobile phone while driving as socially unacceptable as not wearing a seatbelt and as shameful as drink driving."

If the change in the law in the rest of the UK succeeds in reducing the numbers of accidents and deaths related to mobile phone use, then the pressure will be on for a change in the law here too. 

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