UK government clamps down on motorists using a cell phone while driving

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In a bid to curb the growing number of injuries and fatalities resulting from incidents of distracted driving, the UK government has doubled the penalties for motorists using cell phones behind the wheel.

Under the tough new penalties, which came into force in England, Scotland and Wales yesterday (March 1), motorists using a cell phone while driving will receive six points on their license and a £200 (US$246) fine – double the previous three points and £100 (US$123) penalty. Motorists caught using their cell phone twice or accruing 12 points on their license will face magistrates’ court, being disqualified, and fines of up to £1,000 (US$1,228). New drivers, within two years of passing their test, risk having their license revoked, and truck or bus drivers can be suspended if caught. To support the new legislation, police forces across the country will be taking part in a week’s enforcement from March 1-7. This will see extra patrols and an increased focus on cracking down on people using their phones while driving. About 3,600 drivers were handed penalties in the last coordinated enforcement week in January this year.

The UK has some of the safest roads in the world, but the government is determined to make them safer. The Department for Transport (DfT) announced in 2015 it was exploring whether to increase the penalties for using a cell phone while driving, which received almost unanimous support during last year’s consultation. The Ministry of Justice has recently finished a consultation on increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life imprisonment, in an additional crackdown on reckless drivers. The government has launched a powerful and thought-provoking ‘THINK!’ campaign to warn drivers of the new penalties and the dangers of using phones while driving, which will see adverts on billboards, radio and social media, as well as a hard-hitting video in cinemas.

Announcing the new penalties, UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said, “Our message is simple and clear: do not get distracted by your mobile phone while driving. It may seem innocent, but holding and using your phone at the wheel risks serious injury and even death to yourself and other road users. Doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone while driving, and will also mean repeat offenders could find themselves banned from our roads if they are caught twice. Everyone has a part to play in encouraging their family and friends not to use their phones while driving; it is as inexcusable as drink driving.”

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, National Police Chiefs’ Council roads policing lead, said, “These new penalties reflect the seriousness of the offence and will strengthen the deterrent against using a mobile phone at the wheel. We need people to understand that this is not a minor offence that they can get away with. This is an attitudinal problem. We are working to make it socially unacceptable to use a phone at the wheel.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs in charge of public agencies around the world as well as chairmen and CEOs of multinational transportation technology corporations. Tom's early career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).