It is nearly a year since the Government introduced tougher penalties for motorists who use their mobile phone behind the wheel – but has the deterrent had any impact?
More than 400 drivers were fined or prosecuted for the offence in Suffolk between April and October last year, with the county’s police admitting the figure is a “drop in the ocean” compared to the likely thousands of incidents that go unseen by officers.
Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore told the East Anglian Daily Times he had hoped the harsher punishments for breaking the law would have an impact but admitted he was unsure whether it had made any difference.
“It absolutely horrifies me when I see drivers on their phones and sadly we see it all too often,” he added.
In March, the Government cracked down on offenders by doubling the penalty from three points to six and increasing the fine to £200.
The logic behind the changes are simple: statistics prove that drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a crash while using their phone. Police say using a mobile behind the wheel is one of the ‘fatal four’ traffic offences, along with drink/drug-driving, driving too fast, and failing to wear a seatbelt.
However, judging from the volume of offending in Suffolk, there still seems to be confusion in some quarters as to what the rules stipulate.
So what does the law say?
The law is clear on when you can use a hand-held device behind the wheel. It is only legal if you are safely parked with the engine off– and this does not include waiting in traffic or at the traffic lights. If your engine is running, the best advice is that your phone should be nowhere near your hands. In the words of The Department for Transport’s ‘Think’ campaign; ‘make the glove compartment the phone compartment’. That way, you avoid the temptation and the risk of six penalty points.
Having said that, you are allowed to use a phone if it is entirely hands-free. Any hands-free devices should be fully set up before you drive, so you can take calls without handling the device. The rules also prohibit the use of hand-held telephones by passengers who are supervising a provisional driver.
Using other powers, the police can still prosecute if you are not in proper control of a vehicle. This could include holding your phone or plugging it into a charger, for instance.
What about using a phone as a sat-nav? It is illegal to hold a mobile to follow a map – if you wish to use smartphone navigation or a mapping app, fix the phone to the windscreen or dashboard (making sure that it does not obscure your view), so that you can see it without needing to hold it.
The law does include an exception for genuine emergencies: you are allowed to make 999 or 112 calls on a hand-held device while driving but only if it’s not otherwise safe to stop.
Remember, using a hand-held mobile phone while driving carries six penalty points and if you are a new driver, that is enough to put you off the road.
How can Gotelee’s criminal law lawyers help you?
Even with the best intentions, sometimes mistakes are made and that could leave you facing criminal prosecution for breaking driving laws. If you are under investigation or have been charged with an offence, we can assess your situation and advise you on the best way forward.
Our lawyers, based in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge and Melton, will explain the options open to you in a clear and understandable way.