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Tougher New Penalties If Caught Using Your Mobile Phone Whilst Driving

The Department for Transport has announced that there will be a doubling of the penalties if a driver is caught using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving.  The Department for Transport has indicated that these changes will come into force at some point in the first six months of 2017.  Whereas presently a driver would incur three penalty points, this will be doubled to 6 points.  The current penalty includes on the spot fines of £100, but this will increase to £200.  

This means that if a driver is caught using a mobile phone a second time, they would have to appear in court, face a fine of up to £1,000 and being banned from driving for six months or more, unless exceptional hardship were to be successfully argued.

Newly qualified drivers caught using a mobile phone while driving would lose their licence automatically after the first offence as they have a ceiling of six points for their first two years on the road.  They would have to re-apply for a provisional licence and re-take the driving test.  See New Driver Offences.

It is an offence to speak on your mobile without a hands-free kit, text, or check your social media accounts.  However, if your phone is in a cradle then it is OK to press a single button to accept incoming calls whilst driving, but it is not legal to press multiple buttons as you would do whilst texting.  Using a bluetooth hands-free system allows a driver to use their phone without breaking the law, but if your standard of driving is affected then the police may still charge drivers for careless driving or even dangerous driving.

These changes in the law will only apply to England, Scotland and Wales.  There are no plans to change the law in Northern Ireland although the Dept for Infrastructure there said that it will monitor changes made in the rest of the UK to see what can be learned.  Three penalty points and a £60 fine currently apply in Northern Ireland for this offence.

In England, a driver may call 999 or make a similar emergency call if they have witnessed an accident or in other such extreme circumstances but this would only be the case if it was impossible to pull in to the side safely in order to make such a call. 

The government is hoping to make illegal phone use as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or drug-driving.  A recent survey by the RAC found it probable that nearly a third of UK motorists text, make a phone call or use apps whilst driving.  The RAC says that a cut in traffic police numbers has contributed to the rise over recent years because cameras won’t catch you using your phone.  The Department of Transport’s figures show that mobile phone distraction was a contributory factor in 492 accidents in 2014, 84 of which were serious and 21 fatal.  

Ministry of Justice figures show that over the last 10 years the number of prosecutions had halved with only 17,586 motorists charge in 2015 compared with 35,255 in 2010, and the number of convictions and fines imposed by the courts have also halved during this period.  Alongside the introduction of the new tougher penalties, next year the Department for Transport will launch a Think! campaign to raise awareness of the risks of serious accidents occurring as a result of mobile phone use at the wheel.