From this month courts will hand down much tougher sentences to drivers caught using a mobile phone or potentially even just being distracted by any of the car’s communication systems while at the wheel, even if they are stationary in traffic

For drivers with less than two years’ experience it will mean an instant ban with the consequent cost of retaking a driving test and facing vastly increased insurance costs afterwards

Is it fair? John Swift gives his opinion on what is a complex issue

 

LET me be clear from the start and say I have one over-riding view on this which is that doing anything at all but concentrating fully on your driving is potentially every bit as lethal and as irresponsible as getting behind the wheel after several pints.

For the vast majority of us driving a car is the only thing we do on a daily basis which carries the risk of being injured, injuring someone else or worse.

And it takes just a second’s inattention; at 40 mph you cover nearly 120 feet in two seconds. Count that in your head, one, two – and if you have glanced down at your phone you have just done maybe eight or nine car lengths without looking what is happening ahead.

So I support the tougher line on this and think anything that makes people think twice before using a phone, hands free or not, typing in a postcode for the sat nav to work out a route, asking for a review of a hotel or restaurant (yes, you can do that in today’s cars), taking a selfie and posting it online or anything else except keeping your mind on the road, is a good thing.

Some say it is unfair that newer drivers will lose their licence when the court puts six points on it triggering an automatic ban while someone with a bit more experience gets a nasty shock but can still be on the road.

Tough, get on with it, that’s the law.

Get caught being over the drink/drive limit and it’s an instant ban, no if’s or but’s, and we all know that. Driving under the influence impairs your judgement and ability to drive safely just as it is if you are looking away from the road to dial up a contact on your phone, read a text, have a chat about your next work meeting or whatever. To me there is no difference in terms of being irresponsible.

This said, I recognise that phoning while driving is pretty much universal these days and I would like to see a cultural shift against doing so just as drink-driving (thankfully) seems less acceptable now than it was ten or 20 years ago.

Will it happen? I doubt it, not yet anyway with so many opportunities to tap into the rapidly growing number of connectivity features built into our cars.

But there is another issue that has been bubbling away under the surface which the recent change in the law at least hints at, namely that questions are now starting to be asked of car manufacturers about what they are doing to reduce or remove the temptations for their customers to think about things other than driving, when they’re behind the wheel.

With a few exceptions (Peugeot’s i-Cockpit perhaps) they are largely ignoring it and quite reasonably they argue that if they cut the level and sophistication of the connectivity they wouldn’t sell so many vehicles and it would be commercial suicide. Manufacturers say the responsibility to use the car and anything in it within the law rests with the driver.

It’s a fair point, but what will the industry’s response be when lawyers for an insurance company, fighting a huge payout after someone has suffered life-changing injuries in a crash caused by a driver using connectivity, successfully sues the car maker for having put all these temptations in the driver’s way.

This, I suspect, is only a matter of time.

  

The law from March 2017

  • It’s illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device while driving.
  • The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.
  • It’s also illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver.
  • You must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times. The police can stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted. This includes using devices like a hands free phone, the sat nav or car radio.

When you can use a phone in your vehicle:

  • If you’re the driver, you can only use your phone in a vehicle if you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.
  • If and only if, you are safely parked.

Penalties for using your phone while driving

  • You could get six penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200.
  • Your case could also go to court and you could be disqualified from driving or riding and get a maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.

If the above still hasn’t hit home, then take few moments to watch this below footage, courtesy of Thames Valley Police.