From today, March 1 2017, drivers caught driving whilst using a mobile phone will receive six points on their driving licence and receive a £200 fine.
Motorists will no longer be offered the opportunity to go on a driver awareness course as an alternate to penalty points and police forces throughout the country will be running enforcement campaigns.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone, held in the hand, whilst driving or whilst the vehicle is stopped with the engine running.
The increase in penalty will have a significant impact on young drivers in particular. Where a driver receives 6 points within the first two years of passing their driving test, the licence is automatically revoked and both parts of the driving test will need to be passed again.
For drivers who have held a licence for longer than two years, the six points will still take the driver far closer to the dreaded twelve points and a six month disqualification which will be imposed unless the Court is persuaded that the imposing of a ban will cause exceptional hardship. Where drivers using a mobile phone cause an accident, particularly where serious injury or fatality occurs, then they are more likely to face prosecution for dangerous driving or where a death has occurred, causing death by dangerous driving. I have written about the proposals to increase maximum jail terms for these offences here http://www.3d-regulatory.co.uk/blog/death-by-dangerous-driving-take-a-life-face-life .
It has been illegal to use a mobile phone whist driving since 2003. Under the law, there is an offence of “causing or permitting” a driver to use a hand-held phone while driving. This applies to employers who will be guilty of an offence if they require or permit their staff who drive for work, to use a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving. Many employers addressed this by supplying their staff with hands-free systems. Whilst this would protect the employer from prosecution for “causing or permitting” use of a hand-held mobile whilst driving, if an accident occurred and the investigation showed that the use of the hands free phone contributed to the accident, then a prosecution could potentially be brought against the employer under health and safety laws.
Employers have a duty under health and safety law to manage the risks faced by their employees who drive as part of their job. Whilst employers will wish to be in contact with staff and may provide phones or pay towards phone costs, allowing staff to use their phone while driving will open the business (as well as the driver and other road users) to risk.
Employers should ensure that they provide employees with clear guidance on the use of mobile phones and clear written policies should be in place. The use of hand-held phones while driving should not be allowed under any circumstances. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has produced helpful guidance for employers http://www.rospa.com/RoSPAWeb/docs/Advice-Services/Road-Safety/employers/work-mobile-phones.pdf
Challenging prosecutions for driving whilst using a mobile phone is possible. If you have been wrongly accused of using a mobile phone whilst driving, this can be challenged in the magistrates’ court. It will probably be necessary to challenge the evidence of the police officer who stopped you as well as showing positive evidence where possible that casts doubt as to whether the phone was used; call records showing no calls were placed or received for example. Nevertheless, the new penalties will undoubtedly result in more driving bans, higher insurance premiums, though also maybe, safer roads.
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