In December 2015 the Department for Transport produced a wide reaching paper on road safety, called “Moving Britain Ahead”. It makes for interesting reading, as it covers a wide range of proposals that will affect us all. This article deals with the proposal that grabbed the headlines – increased penalties for using mobile phones whilst driving.
The current position
Using a mobile phone whilst driving is an offence contrary to section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is, by the way, a common misconception that it is only an offence to hold a mobile telephone whilst driving. It can also be an offence to merely look away from the road to enter a telephone number, or enter an address in a SatNav.
If a driver is stopped at the roadside and accepts that they were using a mobile phone, then a fixed penalty might be offered. This is currently a fine of £100 and three penalty points. It is in the discretion of local police forces and individual officers as to whether one will be offered – there is no right to a fixed penalty.
If a driver is offered a fixed penalty at the roadside, but cannot in fact be given one (for example if they already have nine penalty points on their licence, and so are in danger of totting), then they will, in due course, be summoned to court (now known as a Postal Requisition).
At court the fine can be a lot more. For many the decision about whether to accept a fixed penalty becomes a practical one. Many clients have told me that they accepted fixed penalties in order to avoid a larger court fine, only to regret accepting 3 points that caused them a problem later on.
Police officers can have a tendency to assume that a piece of bad driving was caused by the use of a mobile telephone or a SatNav when it was not. In a recent case I defended, the well meaning officers had reached just such a conclusion and had offered my client a fixed penalty. However, he did not accept it, and got in touch with me instead. The Magistrates were persuaded that high winds had caused my client’s car to swerve momentarily. The result was that my client was acquitted and so did not receive the three penalty points the officers offered him at the roadside. If you would like to discuss your options before accepting a fixed penalty, please get in touch.
The Department for Transport plans to adopt the following system for drivers caught using a mobile phone:
- First time offenders will be offered an educational course. Most drivers will presumably want to accept this, since it will avoid any penalty points being placed on their licence at all.
- The fixed penalty for most road users will be increased from £100 to £150, and from 3 penalty points to 4. This will presumably make most drivers think again before accepting a fixed penalty for this offence. It will certainly mean that drivers will be at risk of totting sooner than under the current regime. Any driver really ought to take legal advice if they are at all unsure about whether they should accept a fixed penalty.
- The fixed penalty for those driving HGVs or PSVs will be increased to six penalty points. This potentially has career ending consequences for professional drivers, since it is generally at 6 penalty points that the Traffic Commissioners take an interest, and might require a driver to attend a Driver Conduct Hearing. As those drivers will know, this can lead to the withdrawal or suspension of a professional licence.
There can be little doubt that more drivers will now think twice before using their mobiles whilst driving. However for those who do not, or who are falsely accused, the potential consequences are going to be considerably more serious than they are at the moment.
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