The Department for Transport (DfT) has opened a public consultation on proposed changes to increase penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
The consultation is seeking feedback on proposals for increasing the fixed penalty notice (FPN) level from £100 to £150 for all drivers. It also invites views on increasing the penalty points from three to four points for non-HGV drivers, and three to six points for those that hold a large goods vehicle (HGV) licence and commit the offence whilst driving an HGV
The proposals ultimately aim to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the roads.
Both the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) have welcomed the news but stressed the importance of having more traffic police on the road.
Richard Burnett, chief executive at the RHA, said: “Far too many road accidents, some resulting in death, are due to driver distraction and we believe that the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving ranks high on the list.
“This proposed legislation sends a clear message to motorists and HGV drivers that if they are caught, the fines will be considerable and for many, could have a real impact on their ability to work.”
A survey carried out by the RHA in 2015 found that 10% of companies have a policy to dismiss drivers of a hand-held mobile phone offences. However, the whole industry sees this as a serious issue, according to the RHA.
“We see the proposed increase in fixed penalty points from three to six for HGV drivers caught committing this offence as a step in the right direction,” said Burnett. “The RHA has many members looking for a hard line approach on hand-held mobile phone use. They will welcome these proposals as they will help them to maintain standards throughout their fleet.
“However, as with any legislation designed to deter, the proposed measures will only have an impact if they are effectively policed. Unfortunately, since 2010, roads policing numbers have fallen by 23%.
“The RHA represents professional road hauliers and they will welcome this measure. I want to pay tribute to their great professionalism; they do a fantastic job, often in difficult circumstances but always with a strong commitment to road safety.”
Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research, said: “Forcing all drivers caught using a hand-held mobile for the first time to attend a re-education course would be a really positive step.
“For many, smartphone use has become an addiction that we can only start to cure through some form of therapy. The IAM does not object to tougher penalties but we do believe that the real deterrent is fear of being caught. That fear can only be increased by increasing the numbers of traffic police on our roads.”
The DfT’s report launching the consultation cites the IAM’s survey in July 2015 on drivers taking selfies at the wheel.
The IAM found that 9% of drivers surveyed admitted taking a selfie whilst driving within the previous month – a figure that increases to 19% of 25-35 year olds.
The survey also discovered 8% of drivers admitted to driving while using a video-calling application such as FaceTime and Skype to make and receive video calls, rising to 16% among 18 to 24 year olds.
Greig added: “Technology has caused this issue and technology offers one route towards reducing the distraction effect of mobile phone use. It will not be easy to retrofit many of these solutions but the IAM is supportive of trials and pilots to show whether automatically switching off phones when moving can deliver safer roads.”