• Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam and had a quick look at your mobile phone or checked social media?
  • Have you ever sent one quick text message when waiting at traffic lights?
  • Have you ever answered that one quick call whilst going somewhere in the car?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you have been breaking the law! It has been illegal to use a mobile phone when driving since 2003. Many drivers have been ignoring the law and have continued to use their mobiles whilst behind the wheel. Research by the RAC has found that one in four motorists admit to checking texts; emails and social media whilst driving. According to BBC News, in 2015 – the latest year for which figures are available – 22 people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents where a driver was using their phone.

One of the most high profile cases that you may remember was the heart-breaking story of a mother and three children killed by a lorry driver who was using his mobile phone whilst driving on the busy A34 in Berkshire. The lorry driver, Tomasz Kroker, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2016.

Road safety campaigners have been lobbying the Government to change the law and increase the penalties for drivers caught using mobile devices whilst driving in order to encourage safer driving and to reduce serious accidents and fatalities on the roads.

As a result, as from 1 March 2017, the penalties for using a phone while at the wheel have been significantly increased.

So what are the changes? Penalty points for using your phone at the wheel have doubled to six points on your driving licence and a £200 fine. Drivers who are caught using their phone within two years of passing their test will have their licence revoked.

More experienced drivers who accrue more than 12 penalty points will be automatically disqualified and if they are caught using their mobile phone on more than one occasion, they risk going to court with the possibility of a fine of £1000 and a six month ban. Drivers of buses or heavy goods vehicles could face a maximum fine of £2,500.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said increasing fixed penalties would act as a “strong deterrent”.

The law applies even if you are stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic or if the engine is idling. It does not apply to hands free devices.

Alongside these tougher punishments, the Government has also funded a hard-hitting advertising campaign to highlight the dangers of using your phone at the wheel.

It is hoped that these changes will bring about a much needed change of attitude and awareness about driving safely on roads. Only time will tell if these changes will have a significant impacts on drivers’ behaviour and whether people’s addiction to their phones will stop when they are behind the wheel. Enforcement must be vigorously applied and sufficient funds are needed to ensure there are sufficient police officers available to uphold the law in order to reinforce the change of attitude that is needed.

One can only hope that these changes have the desired effect and that there are fewer accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries on the road. The Neurolaw and Serious Injuries teams in Hugh James deal with these cases every day of the week and we see at first hand the devastation that these accidents cause to the injured person and their families. Motorists need to be aware that they are driving a potentially deadly weapon and that a failure in their fundamental duty to drive with due care and attention and drive safely can put themselves and others in serious danger. Who knows, in years to come, may be using a mobile device whilst driving will be as socially unacceptable as drink driving or driving under the influence of drugs is now.