Changes to mobile phone driving laws come into force but many unconvinced they will make roads safer
Tougher laws on mobile phone usage while driving have come into force today, Friday, March 25.
Drivers face six penalty points and a fixed £200 fine if they are caught using a handheld phone at the wheel for virtually any reason after a loophole in the law was closed.
For those caught the fine could reach up to £1,000, a driver will be banned if they’re caught twice within a three-year period, or if they’ve held their license for less than two years.
But new RAC research shows four-in-10 (43%) aren’t aware of the changes being introduced and just 2% believe it will be very effective in improving driver behaviour.
Before today, a loophole existed where drivers might only receive a maximum of three penalty points and a £100 fine for using a handheld phone for actions that didn’t involve any form of telecommunication – for instance, for scrolling through music playlists or taking a photo or video.
In November 2021, the Government confirmed that the law would be toughened to ensure almost any use of a handheld phone would be punishable with six points and a £200 fine.
While most of the 2,000 drivers surveyed by the RAC (75%) are fully supportive of the change in the law, many are sceptical as to how effective it will be in getting offending drivers to change their behaviour and make the roads safer.
Here’s a list of the phone uses that fall foul of the new law:
- Illuminating the screen
- Checking the time
- Checking notifications
- Unlocking the device
- Making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet based call
- Sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content
- Sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video
- Utilising camera, video, or sound recording
- Drafting any text
- Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
- Accessing an app Accessing the internet
Just 2% of drivers said they thought it will be ‘very effective’, with 49% thinking it would be ‘partly effective’ and a similar proportion – 45% – saying it won’t be effective.
Of those who have concerns the roads won’t be made safer by the changes that come in today, 86% say that it’s because some drivers will always persist in using a phone illegally regardless of the law, while seven-in-10 (70%) say the problem is drivers don’t feel they’re likely to get caught in the first place.
Nearly three-in-10 (28%) fear not enough will be done to let drivers know about the changes.
When it comes to what drivers think needs to be done to reduce the number of people using a handheld phone illegally at the wheel, drivers are split.
Almost equal proportions believe that more visible police enforcement (23%), a high-profile advertising campaign (24%) and even tougher laws (26%) – such as the threat of a driver losing their licence altogether if caught. A fifth meanwhile (20%) would like to see cameras used to catch drivers acting illegally.
RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis: “It’s clear that most drivers are supportive of the law being strengthened to make it easier to prosecute drivers who put lives at risk by using a handheld phone – after all, using a phone to take a photo or look at a playlist is at least as distracting as using it to talk or text.”
Rule 149 of The Highway Code now states that drivers “must not use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, when driving or when supervising a learner driver, except to call 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop”, and will attempt to remove any ambiguity as to the appropriate level of ‘interactivity’ of a device while a car is in use.
The revisions to the initial 2003 legislation, which were laid before the Houses of Parliament in February, will now see drivers being fined £1000 and having six points added to their driving licence if they are found to be in breach of the law.
RoSPA has been explicit and vocal about limiting driving distractions, and fully supports the ruling that mobile phones or other devices should be used only when a driver is safely parked or if responding to a matter of urgency.
“But while we welcome today’s law change and very much hope it will make a difference, it’s arguable that it will only be truly effective if it’s rigorously enforced.”
“If some drivers still don’t feel they’re likely to be caught, then simply making the law tougher isn’t going to have the desired effect of making our roads safer.”
“That explains why such a tiny proportion of drivers – just 2% – think the new changes will be very effective in changing behaviour.”
“The dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement, and that means police forces having the resources and technology they need to more easily catch those drivers that continue to flout the law.”
“Cameras that can automatically detect handheld phone use exist and are in use in other countries, so we think it’s high time the UK Government evaluated this technology with a view to allowing police forces to deploy it at the earliest opportunity.”
Previous research for the RAC Report on Motoring found that more than one-in-10 younger drivers admitted to taking a photo or video while driving, while 6% said they had played a game on a handheld phone while at the wheel.
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