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This weekend the government revealed that it is taking a tougher approach to dealing with people who persist in picking up their smartphones while they are behind the wheel.
Anyone who flouts the law on mobile use while driving will be subject to a £200 fine and will have six penalty points added to their licence, potentially leading to a ban if there are already points from other offences in place.
A variety of mobile-oriented activities are not allowed under the current system, including making voice calls or sending texts when driving. The only way to legally talk to someone via mobile in this instance is to make use of products which facilitate hands-free calling, such as via a separate headset or a car’s built-in Bluetooth.
These more stringent rules and accompanying punishments will be enforced from 2017 onwards and will apply across the UK.
Those who are caught red-handed with a mobile while driving on more than one occasion will be in even more trouble, with fines increasing to £1000 and the threat of having their licence revoked for a fixed period also on the table.
At the moment, the penalty for mobile use behind the wheel is a £100 fine and three points on the offender’s licence, meaning that lawmakers have effectively doubled the disincentive in an attempt to curb this apparently rampant problem.
This move comes just days after a report from the RAC revealed that the number of people breaking the law on mobile use while driving is higher than ever, with safety campaigners arguing that more needs to be done in order to address a dangerous cultural trend.
Analysts estimate that around 11 million drivers have made or received at least one call over the past year, while around half this group have gone further still, using their handsets’ integrated cameras to take pictures and capture footage.
Such activity is especially prevalent amongst the youngest drivers, with the under-24s also admitting to making use of social media services such as Facebook and Instagram when they should be paying attention to the road ahead.
14 per cent of respondents to the study even said that they believed it was acceptable to drive and use a mobile; this is twice the proportion who expressed similar sentiments when the same report was conducted two years ago. A fifth said that they were fine with the idea of people checking their phone while the car was stationary but still on a public road, such as while waiting for the lights to change or whilst stuck in traffic.
There is consistent evidence from a number of studies, including a recent paper published by the Transport Research Laboratory, which shows that motorists who use mobiles are not only dangerously distracted but are actually slower to react than people who are intoxicated while in charge of a car.
AA spokesperson Edmund King said that the government’s decision to double the penalties could be seen as harsh, but he argued that such a steep increase could be necessary in order to ensure that the youngest drivers in the UK get the message about the hazards associated with mobile use.
For some the increase will not go far enough, although it is higher than initially expected, as the government earlier said it was consulting on the idea of increasing the fine to £150.
People across all generations are addicted to mobile use, and if it is seen as socially acceptable to use smartphones while driving, then it is unsurprising that they are so ubiquitous in all other areas of life. With self-driving cars set to touch down in the next half-decade, car owners will at last be able to relinquish the responsibility of paying attention to the road and can use their travel time for whatever activities they wish without putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
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