Figures released in today’s press indicate that prosecutions for using a mobile telephone whilst driving rose from a total of 482 in 2004, to 26,993 in 2008. This significant rise in conviction rates has taken place since the enactment of s.41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which formally made it an offence to use a hand-held mobile telephone whilst driving.
Since then the police are policing these cases more diligently and rightly so. Certain cases can be defendable depending on the facts of the case and the manner of use alleged. Equally the police and Courts sometimes deal with matters too harshly. Legally, the only excuse for using a mobile telephone whilst driving, is the existence of a ‘genuine emergency’ which is rarely argued successfully. Bluetooth kits and hands-free devices are all easily available and we all know that it is an offence to use a mobile telephone whilst driving. If a text, call or email must be taken for an urgent business reasons, people should know that the only safe way to deal with such situations is to stop driving.
The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has indicated that motorists who use mobile devices whilst driving will face tougher penalties. We welcome the news that fines are to increase but the 50% increase to £90 is still far too low. The number of penalty points will remain at 3. Use of mobile phones whilst driving is extremely dangerous and puts lives at risk. The same Bill will also impose a £90 fine and 3 points on a license for eating a sandwich whilst driving. This is also highly dangerous. Paul Kitson is currently pursuing a Fatal Accident Claim arising out of this situation.
Bizarrely the penalty for use of a mobile telephone whilst driving will only be £10 more than the new £80 fine to car owners if a passenger throws litter out of their car. This sends out completely the wrong message by placing as much importance on having clean and tidy roads as safe roads. It is time that the Government got tough on road safety and imposed sentences that really will stop people from risking lives on the roads and this means driving bans and hefty fines.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, has said "With both texting and hand-held use of mobile phones at the wheel causing more impairment than being at the drink-drive limit or under the influence of cannabis, the police need to target the large number of motorists continuing to flout the law."
Based on our experience of cases in our Personal Injury and Criminal (Driving Offences) departments we wholeheartedly agree with Professor Glaister`s comments. We have both dealt with tragic cases where use of mobile phones whilst driving has resulted in fatalities. It is time that punishment matched the crime.