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Stricter penalties for drivers using mobile phones won't work, says motorists

That’s the finding of new RAC research published in the wait for the outcome of a Government consultation on increasing the penalties for illegal phone use.

The analysis, which follows recent new evidence that found talking on a hands-free phone can be just as distracting as using a hand-held mobile, found that 52% of the 2,100 motorists surveyed felt the standard penalty of three penalty points and a fine of £100 for drivers caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel should be increased. Yet 41% believed it is already set at the correct level.

And nearly a third (31%) say that increasing the severity of the penalty will not make any difference at all in changing the behaviour of those motorists who are prepared to break the law in this way.

More than two-thirds of the motorists surveyed (68%) said they wished there were more police officers around to catch offenders. A total of 76% believe offenders are putting other people’s lives at risk and 60% say those using a hand-held phone whilst driving are ‘selfish and irresponsible’.

The Government’s consultation on raising the fine from £100 to £150 and increasing the penalty points for non-HGV drivers from three to four closed on 15 March and its response is due to published imminently.

The consultation was also seeking feedback on a proposal to increase penalty points from three to six for those that hold a large goods vehicle (HGV) licence and commit the offence whilst driving an HGV.

A total of 58% of those surveyed think this is a good idea and, in this instance, only 38% don’t think it will make any difference whatsoever.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “In the 13 years since specific legislation was introduced making it illegal to use a handheld phone while driving, mobile phones have evolved into smartphones, and the increased features offered by apps and faster internet access has raised interaction among users to near addiction levels. While being glued to the screen of a mobile phone when walking is dangerous enough, doing the same thing at the wheel of a vehicle, even just occasionally is a recipe for disaster.

“Changing this behaviour will only come through a combination of actions. We need more rigorous enforcement of the law, increased penalties that act as a meaningful deterrent and a high profile advertising campaign that makes motorists fully aware of the serious consequences of using a handheld phone at the wheel of a vehicle.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.