Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling has warned that under measures which came into force on 1st March 2017, motorists will face losing their licence if they are caught using their phone whilst driving.

Motorists using a phone while driving will receive six points on their licence and a £200 fine - up from the previous three points and £100 penalty. Drivers who are caught using their mobile phone twice, or accruing 12 points on their licence will now face magistrates' court, being disqualified and fines of up to £1,000 (unless they can show that a ban would cause them 'exceptional hardship').

Drivers who are caught within two years of passing their test risk having their licence revoked and for lorry or bus drivers the penalties risk being even worse following review by their traffic commissioners.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said "our message is simple and clear: do not get distracted by a 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."

Studies have shown that talking on a hand-held mobile phone poses a risk four times greater than that posed by undistracted drivers. That is on a par with drink driving. Another study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving conferred a risk of collision 23 times greater than driving undistracted.

The increase in penalties follows a consultation process by the Department of Transport in 2016 which favoured almost unanimous support for greater penalties. 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. It follows on from high profile accidents such as the case against Keith Mees who was jailed in December 2016 for six years after using his mobile phone to browse Facebook whilst driving his 38-tonne HGV lorry on the M271 near Southampton. He ploughed into the back of slow traffic causing two fatalities.

So what is this all likely to mean in practice?

First, the Government's move to increase the level of penalties raises the profile of this type of offence, and the criminal courts and Traffic Commissioners will be bound to take note.

Second, we have increased clarification from the government that using a hand held mobile phone (to make or receive calls or text messges, or to check social media/emails etc.) whilst stopped in traffic or at traffic lights is illegal - and the legal test, is not a question of what the driver may consider to be 'safe'.

Third, drivers may listen to music or podcasts on a smart phone, but only on a 'hands free' basis.

Fourth, there is no 'approval' of drivers using their phones legally per se. The law on careless and dangerous driving remains in place, and being distracted while making a telephone call itself legally (and as a result driving carelessly or dangerously) is unaffected by these changes (as above).

If you would like further clarification on this area or advice on transport law issues in general, then call us now on 01279 818280 or click here to send an email.

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