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Stricter mobile phone driving laws: what's changed?

We all know that using a mobile phone behind the wheel is illegal. In fact, in March last year, the government introduced stricter penalties in a bid to reduce the number of people breaking the law.

Using a mobile behind the wheel

The penalty for anyone caught using their phone doubled from three to six points, with a £200 fine. For drivers with less than two years' experience, six points means a ban from driving.

Radio 5 Live figures cited by the BBC showed that 290 new UK drivers lost their licence within the first six months of the rule change. If you're disqualified for driving, you have to retake both your practical and theory test to get back on the road.

Prosecuted driver numbers plummet

Data from the Ministry of Justice, shared by the Independent, showed that the number of drivers using their phones plummeted by almost half between 2012 and 2016, from 22,135 to 11,961.

Good news? Not necessarily. On paper, these figures are promising. But the RAC has warned the drop in convictions are a result of there being fewer traffic officers on our roads. A Freedom of Information request from last year showed that officer numbers declined by a third in just a decade, from 3,766 in 2007 to 2,643 last year.

RAC spokesperson, Pete Williams, said the conviction data is "really just the tip of a very large iceberg of drivers who are prepared to risk their own lives and those of other road users by continuing to use a handheld phone when driving."

Williams referenced a 2017 RAC report, which found that over nine million drivers use handheld phones to make or receive calls behind the wheel. Shockingly, just under a quarter (23%) of the respondents admitted to using their phones in the 12 months before they were questioned.

A recap of the rules

As a recap, the Gov.uk website states it's a criminal offence to hold a phone or sat nav while driving. You must have hands-free access, which could take the form of:

  • voice command
  • a dashboard holder
  • a windscreen mount
  • built-in sat nav
  • a bluetooth headset.

You must make sure the hands-free device doesn't obstruct your view of the road and traffic and the law applies if you're stopped or queuing in traffic, or if you're supervising a learner driver.

It's legal to use a handheld phone in certain situations, like when you're parked in a safe place. The other is in an emergency scenario when you need to call 999 or 112, but it's neither safe nor practical to stop the car.

As mentioned, drivers found guilty of using their mobile phones will receive six penalty points on their licence plus a £200 fine. You can also get three points if your view of the road and traffic ahead is obstructed, or you don't have adequate control of the car. If your case is taken to court, you could be banned from driving and receive a maximum fine of £1,000.

There's only one piece of advice we have for drivers when it comes to using mobile phones at the wheel: don't do it.

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