Using your mobile phone whilst driving has been illegal since December 2003. Whether you’re caught at the traffic lights when your car isn’t moving, or you’re doing 70mph down the motorway, if you’re caught with a phone in your hand at the wheel you can expect a minimum of a £100 fine and three points on your licence. Unfortunately, figures released for 2013 show that in 22% of fatal road traffic accidents, mobile phones were a factor. According to MP, Robert Goodwill, “the problem isn’t just drivers making phone calls, it is their use of phones to text or use the internet.” But what is it that we’re doing that can’t wait?

Mobile Behaviour

For some drivers, the lure of social media is overwhelming, with a third of young drivers admitting to taking a selfie behind the wheel. In fact, if you search Instagram for #DrivingSelfies you’ll see that 27,262 people have posted a photo with that hashtag*, putting other drivers at risk in so doing.

According to 2014 government data, the majority of offenders have had their phone in their hand rather than to their ear, which supports the idea that it isn’t phone calls but other uses that are most common. Males were also found to be worse offenders, being caught with their phone to their ear, and hand, more often than females?

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Snapchat also provides some cause for concern with its recently introduced ‘mph’ feature, which lets users take photos whilst the app works out how fast you are travelling at that time. Whilst this may have been a harmless idea, it can easily become a factor that causes a social media user to use the app whilst driving.

Government data also touched on the types of vehicles being stopped for the offence in 2014. It reported that van drivers were the highest culprit. Lorry drivers also accounted for a high number of offences, suggesting that driving professionals are creating risks on the road.

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Rising Penalties

Since the introduction of the ban, many changes to the law have been made in order to rectify the consistent rise in offences:

  • 2003: The law against using our phones whilst driving was introduced. It started as a simple £30 fine.
  • 2007: When the law was introduced it was made clear that the penalty would be increased from £30 to £60 and three penalty points, as soon as the change could be made in Parliament. This change was made four years later in 2007.
  • 2013: When reports showed that mobile phone usage continued to be a big problem, the fine was increase to £100 as an additional deterrent.

According to the government data, these penalty increases also don’t seem to be a long-term solution, as the most recent introduction of the £100 fixed penalty appears to have made no discernible difference and has failed to halt the rise.

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Recently commenting on the rise in mobile phone usage, Labour MP Mary Creagh hinted that there could be further change when she announced that “Labour will be pressing the government to take firm action to prevent these avoidable deaths.” This came shortly after the Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe called for offenders to get six points on their licence, suggesting penalty points could double.

Drivers Reoffend

According to a study by Confused.com one in 10 young drivers confessed that they had been caught by police for using their phones whilst driving. However 57% of the offenders admitted that they will continue to commit the same offence, undeterred by the current penalty system in place.

The study also investigated how these young drivers used their phones whilst driving, finding that 8% of them were accessing Twitter, 5% were accessing Instagram and 7% were openly taking a selfie behind the wheel.

When the penalty points were introduced in 2007, it caused the biggest decline in offences in 12 years, which suggests that rising the penalty points to six, rather than increasing the fixed penalty fine, will have a similar effect. With both the Police Commissioner and Shadow Transport Secretary pushing for this change, it may not be long until it is introduced.