Stiffer distracted driving penalty consultation opens

Proposed increases in penalties for smartphone use whilst driving is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go the whole way, says the IAM.

A public consultation has been opened by the Department for Transport (DfT) regarding the proposal to impose stricter penalties on offenders caught using hand-held mobile phones whilst driving, a move that has been welcomed by the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).

With a proposal of raising fixed penalties from £100 to £150, increasing penalty points from 3 to 4 points for non-HGV drivers and from 3 to 6 points for when the offence is committed in an HGV, the DfT is soliciting feedback and views from the public.

Whilst believing the proposal to be a positive one, the IAM nonetheless believes that an impact can only be truly made with improved enforcement, as explained by Neil Greig, the organisation’s director of policy and research: “The IAM does not object to tougher penalties but we do believe that the real deterrent is a fear of being caught. That fear can only be increased by increasing the numbers of traffic police on our roads.”

The use of a hand-held mobile phone isn’t of course restricted to making telephone calls or sending and receiving SMS messages, there is also the recent phenomenon of taking selfies to be considered, something which the IAM reported on in a survey it conducted in July last year. At that time, the organisation noted the 9% of drivers had admitted to taking selfies behind the wheel within the previous month, with 25-35 year olds being the worst offenders with a selfie-rate of 19%.

The survey also uncovered other unacceptable and illegal smartphone activities including using FaceTime and Skype. In this respect, the IAM believes that the answer lies in technology rather than increased penalties.

Neil Greig concluded, “Technology has caused this issue and technology offers one route towards reducing the distraction effect of mobile phone use.  It will not be easy to retrofit many of these products but the IAM is supportive of trials and pilots to show whether automatically switching off phones when moving can deliver safer roads.”

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