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Using a mobile whilst driving has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ – is the law about to get tougher?

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New research suggests that the number of people who use mobile phones behind the wheel in the UK has quadrupled over the last two years. The survey suggests that drivers have no fear that they will be caught by Police.

A survey by motoring charity the RAC suggests that the number of drivers who admitted to using a handheld mobile phone while driving increased to 31 per cent, compared with a mere 8 per cent in 2014. Ironically figures from January 2016 show that the number of motorists fined and given penalty points for driving whilst using a mobile had fallen to 30,000 offending motorists compared with 123,000 in 2011.

The RAC said the combination of fewer police officers on our roads and more smartphones meant their use by drivers was at “epidemic proportions”. Spokesman for the RAC Peter Williams said:

“Sadly, motorists’ attitudes to using handheld mobile phones while driving appear to be relaxing rather than tightening. This is due to the combination of our constantly growing addiction to ever more sophisticated smartphones, coupled with there being little or no fear of being caught in the act as a result of declining numbers of roads policing officers.”

“Add to this the failure of successive governments to invest in a public awareness campaign to make handheld mobile phone use at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink-driving and you can see why this illegal driving behaviour is now at epidemic proportions,”

This study follows the case dealt with at Winchester Crown Court in September 2016 of Christopher Gard who received a 9 year term of imprisonment for causing the death of a cyclist whilst using a mobile telephone. Only weeks before, Mr Gard had appeared before a Magistrates Court and retained his driving licence in arguing ‘exceptional hardship’ for an offence of using a mobile whilst driving. He had 8 previous convictions for the same offence.

At present, the motoring offence of using a mobile telephone whilst driving carries a fine and 3 penalty points. Regardless of the circumstances of the case or the previous convictions of the offender, the penalty points endorsed upon a driving licence can not be increased by a Court. Unless the use of a mobile telephone impacts the standard of driving, the police will not consider the more serious offences of careless driving or dangerous driving which can carry a disqualification from driving as the ultimate sanction.

Despite attempts by local police forces to crack down upon the use of mobiles when driving, through concerted and well publicised advertising campaigns and the use of cameras that can detect drivers using a phone, the problem has escalated.

There is increased pressure upon our law makers to increase the penalty for using a mobile telephone when behind the wheel, in the view of #1 Motoring Solicitors we can expect the consequences to become more severe. It has been announced by The Department for Transport under new rules expected to come into force during the first half of 2017, that motorists will face 6 penalty points imposed upon their licence and a £200 fine, essentially doubling the penalties in place. This increase will mean that ‘new drivers’ and repeat offenders face having their licence revoked or the imposition of a 6 month driving ban.

One thing is for sure, given the mobile phone epidemic continues to increase with potentially fatal consequences, the ramifications for a driver using a mobile whilst driving will almost certainly increase in the foreseeable future.