The Government are poised to increase the financial penalty and number of points to be endorsed for motorists driving whilst using a mobile phone. This change is suggested as part of the Government’s Road Safety Plan, but questions could be asked as to whether this will actually form an effective deterrent and provide for safer roads.
The proposal is to increase the Fixed Penalty amount from £100 to £150 and the number of penalty points to either 4 or 6. This will allow a more severe penalty to be awarded to those driving HGV’s or large vehicles, as they pose a greater threat.
But will this change make the roads any safer, or simply provide an increase in revenue from fines?
Research conducted by Department of Transport[i] shows an initial reaction to changes in legislation between 2002 and 2014. This does however, appear to be relatively short lived as the number of drivers seen using their mobile phones begins to steadily increase as time passes.
Data collected shows that once legislation was introduced in 2003, there was a sizable decrease in the number of motorists observed using phones whilst driving. After approximately a year however, statistics begin to show a stable increase in phone use, to a level almost equal to the pre-legislative figures. That is until around 2007, where there is another decrease. This change seems to coincide with the increase of the fine, from £30 to £60 and addition of 3 penalty points.
Again, the figures continue to increase over the next 8 years. The increase of the fixed penalty amount from £60 to £100 in 2014 does not show any discernible difference to the figures. The current figures suggest an overall change between 2002 and 2014 of 0.3%. This again brings into the question the true merit of these proposals.
It could be argued that increase in awareness /education would be more effective. Greater publicity of the safety risks and current penalties may curtail the statistical increase shown after each legislative change. Clearly the penalty is on the mind of offending motorists subsequently, after they are caught but that may be less of a deterrent if they consider it a minimal risk at the time itself. Were motorists to be reminded of all of the associated safety risks they pose to the public they may think twice. Additionally, were greater resources provided to policing this offence, a motorist may have to ask the question;
“should I take this call if I am likely to be caught by the police or worse, cause a serious collision.”
We don’t believe that in increase in fines or points alone will result in significant, lasting changes to the entrenched habits and beliefs of most motorists.