It has been widely reported that the Government has announced that it is considering increasing the minimum number of penalty points imposed for texting whilst driving, and doubling the fines.
This is not quite right, as it is not limited to texting. The offence itself is not texting whilst driving, but using a mobile telephone whilst driving. It is certainly true, though, that a large number of serious accidents are caused by people texting / checking Facebook / using Twitter whilst driving, rather than speaking on their mobiles. Sometimes it seems that every second driver is surreptitiously using their mobile telephone. This means that the driver is looking at their lap, rather than at the road. It is easy to see how the accidents occur.
The Government has announced that it is considering increasing the penalty to six points, and presumably also increasing the guideline fines that Magistrates generally follow. Interestingly, the announcement was made by Chris Grayling, who is now the Transport Minister, but who was until relatively recently the Lord Chancellor. The consensus among lawyers is that he was the worst Lord Chancellor in living memory. However, he seems to have retained his love of tinkering with the legal system despite no longer being in charge of it.
At the moment, using a mobile telephone whilst driving carries three penalty points, or a ban in really serious cases. The Government has a problem, because it needs to discourage people from using their mobiles when driving. However, the risk of being caught is extremely small. Drivers therefore seem to think that it is worth the risk for three penalty points. The Government’s reasoning is that they will not take the risk for six points.
The question is whether it will work. There is some evidence to suggest that it will. A few years ago, the penalty for failing to respond to a notice of intended prosecution was increased from three points to six points. Almost immediately, registered keepers of cars became better at remembering who had been driving when their car went through a speed camera.
However, there will be some serious consequences for drivers if this change goes through:
- Just two offences like this will see a driver at risk of totting, and so losing their licence for six months.
- New drivers would have to re-take their test after just one offence.
- Those who send a quick text or email whilst waiting at traffic lights would be liable for six points, just the same as someone who checks Twitter while driving at 70 mph on a motorway.
It is this last point that is perhaps the most unfair. Maybe the Government will be persuaded to introduce a range of points, from 3 to 6, for the offence, and then leave Magistrates to decide how serious the offence was.
When a driver is in danger of totting, or a new driver at risk of having his licence revoked, there is usually something we can do to help keep them on the road.
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