Drivers who are caught using their mobile phones at the wheel could face fines of up to £150 and four penalty points if new government plans are approved.
Proposals to bring in bigger punishments are part of the government’s Road Safety Plan and are targeted towards those drivers who repeatedly re-offend. Currently, the fine for using a mobile device while driving is £100 and three penalty points, which was increased from £60 in 2013.
HGV drivers would face the harshest punishment, collecting six penalty points if they’re caught using a mobile phone at the wheel. It’s understood the larger increase for lorry drivers is designed to reflect how much more severe accidents involving HGVs can be.
Under the scheme, first-time offenders will still be offered an educational course rather than a fine.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said he wants to see using a phone while driving become a “social taboo, like not wearing a seatbelt”.
McLoughlin added: “Using a mobile phone while driving is reckless and costs lives. The message is clear: keep your hands on the wheel, not your phone. If you keep taking calls at the wheel, you could end up being banned from the road.”
Figures from the Department for Transport show that there were 1775 road deaths on UK roads in 2014, a 4% rise on the previous year. The use of a mobile phone was a contributing factor in 21 fatal accidents in 2014. Research conducted by the Road Safety Observatory concluded that "talking on a hand-held mobile phone impairs driving more than driving above the drink drive limit".
The president of the AA, Edmund King, said: “This epidemic of hand-held mobile phone use while driving has already cost lives and drivers have demanded action. Three-quarters of drivers see others using mobile phones on some or most journeys, with one-quarter seeing it on every journey, according to our polls.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists welcomed the proposa. Chief executive officer Sarah Sillars said: "Safe driving is everyone’s responsibility and more must be done to catch drivers using these devices dangerously by increasing the fines and points for smartphone and tablet use at the wheel. There is simply no excuse.
“The majority of drivers will welcome these increased fines and penalty points, alongside driver improvement courses, to tackle those who use hand-held mobiles at the wheel.”
The issue is currently open to public consultation until 15 March, with the new penalties due to be put in place in July 2016.