By Ben Marsden, personal injury solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors
It may well be the driving offence now most commonly committed on the UK’s roads – using a mobile whilst behind the wheel.
Whether it be spending just a few seconds to answer a call, glancing at an incoming text, or, more blatantly, using a smartphone for social media or even to take pictures and videos, most people would find it hard to deny using their phone when driving at one time.
Over the past 10 years, more than 200 people have been killed in Britain in accidents involving drivers using hand-held mobile phones at the wheel.
The number of accidents in which phones have been involved is increasing, with almost 500 accidents caused by drivers who were using a hand-held phone in 2014, the highest number on record. Of those accidents, 21 proved fatal.
Research by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has shown that drivers using any type of mobile phone – hands-free or not – are four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves and other people.
However, it is a message which is largely ignored, as research recently conducted by our road accident claims team at Hudgell Solicitors has highlighted.
Asked which single new law would make the biggest difference to road safety in the UK, 45 per cent of respondents said an instant ban for being caught using a phone.
Interestingly, just 15 per cent thought a total ban on drinking alcohol before driving would result in less accidents on the roads.
In my view, these figures give an indication of acceptance that the law regarding mobile phone use is routinely broken and is not strong enough. It suggests tougher punishments are needed to make drivers think, and not pick up their phone.
Without stronger punishments, many – and perhaps even those who consider themselves safe and considerate drivers – will take the risk.
Ministers last year announced plans which will see most first time offenders offered an educational course to learn about the risks of their behaviour after they are stopped by police.
Those who are ‘persistent offenders’ will face an increase from the current three penalty points to four, while fines will rise from £100 to £150.
The flaw here is that ‘first time offenders’, on the vast majority of occasions, will not be that. They’ll more likely be regular offenders who have been caught for the first time.
Also, why should there be such a thing as ‘persistent offenders’? Do we get persistent offenders of drink-driving being allowed to hold onto their licence? Certainly not.
I have previously written about my belief that such punishments are not strong enough, as I believe people currently do not associate the risk of being caught and punished for using a mobile anywhere near that of being caught drink-driving.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where many don’t stop and think of the possible victims of their reckless actions, instead focussing on the punishment they’ll face for breaking the law rather than the damage they can do to the lives of others.
As well as potential technological innovations and continued publicity of the dangers of driving whilst using a mobile phone, more serious punishments for mobile phone use are needed. Only then can we make a difference and improve safety on the roads.
At present, the punishment certainly doesn’t fit the crime. In order to combat the culture of driving whilst using a mobile phone, that simply has to change. Before more lives are lost.