The penalty for using a mobile phone while driving doubles from three to six points today with the fine increasing to £200, making drivers more likely to lose their licence.
However, for many people this law change will come as a surprise, with many unaware all together.
In a survey conducted by The Co-op two fifths (39 per cent) of drivers said they did not realise the number of points was increasing to six, if you were caught using your mobile phone behind the wheel.
It is hoped that the change in sentencing will be a deterrent to drivers, but in my opinion educating the public is more important.
I want the general public to become aware of what the law classes as using your mobile phone while driving. People should know that it is not just the sending and receiving of messages or making and taking calls.
A CU80 driving offence of using a mobile phone while driving a motor vehicle can be issued for using an interactive communication function on any hand-held device. This means that glancing at a preview of a text on your smartphone is illegal even if you do it whilst sat stationary at a set of lights with your handbrake on.
Other than using a phone in an emergency there is no longer any excuse for driving and using your mobile. It doesn’t matter if you were only checking your phone to see who the message or missed call was from –distracted driving can kill.
I think that driving whilst using a mobile phone should be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. I have worked on many cases where people have died or been injured as a result of a motorist using their phone while driving. It is thoroughly avoidable and can affect many lives including the person at fault.
I have seen a huge decrease in the number of clients charged with this offence. The police are unable to carry out patrols to enforce these offences due to ongoing budget cuts. In my opinion, the recent week-long clampdown which caught out almost 8,000 motorists is nowhere near enough.
As a result of the increase in the penalty, I expect a higher number of drivers will be at risk of disqualification.
As it is usually the defendant’s word against a police officer, driving using a mobile phone is a very hard driving offence to defend.
Drivers who tot up 12 points within three years will receive a driving ban of six months at the least. Then, after they have served the ban, their licence will be wiped clean of penalty points.
In certain circumstances, disqualification can be avoided if it can be proven to the court, on the balance of probabilities that such disqualification would cause the individual or an innocent third party exceptional hardship. I predict that with the law changing and more drivers totting up 12 points there will be more exceptional hardship applications in the months to come.
In addition to the spot fine increasing to £200, the fines that those guilty of using their phone at the wheel are given in court will almost certainly be larger too. The maximum fine a court can issue is now £1,000 or £2,500 for bus and HGV drivers.
If you need advice and legal representation for a driving offence committed anywhere in England and Wales contact the driving offence solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0808 175 7998 or contact us online.
Paul Reddy is the head of Slater and Gordon Lawyers road traffic defence team.