Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, has said there is a need to change the culture of phone usage by drivers and has commissioned a report which will look at how many people are using their phones while driving and the best way of tackling the problem.
“We’ve got to change the culture on phone usage by drivers. It destroys lives,” said McLoughlin, speaking to The Mirror. The newspaper had invited him to meet with three people who have suffered as a result of an incident where a driver was found to have been using their mobile phone.
The meeting was part of the newspaper’s Drive Phone Smart campaign which calls for drivers using phones at the wheel to be treated as toughly as drink-drivers – a one-year ban and six penalty points instead of just three, and fines increased from £100 to a minimum of £1,000 for a first-time offender.
McLoughlin praised the campaign for raising awareness of the issue, saying that this was key. “You can try using the law but it depends on catching people. We must try to get the message across.”
Cases dropped from 9,600 to 4,200 when the £100 fine was introduced and McLoughlin believes a lot of the impact could be put down to the related publicity. “It was partly getting people to think and be aware.”
He revealed that a report into the issue has been commissioned and is due to be published in the New Year. “It will help us to further understand how many people are using their phones while driving and exactly how do we go about tackling it.”
In July, McLoughlin said that he was considering a proposal put forward by Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, for drivers committing the offence to receive six penalty points. This would mean that anyone caught on two occasions in a three-year period would lose their licence.
However, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, has said that he feels the problem is less about the size of the penalty and more about the chance of being caught.
"The Department for Transport's own figures show that on two previous occasions when this law was tightened and fines increased the number of people offending initially dropped but then rapidly rose again. The conclusion must be that drivers simply don't think they are going to be caught."
Glaister also said that the RAC Foundation’s own research highlighted just how dangerous mobile phone use behind the wheel can be. "Texting while driving impairs reactions more than being at the drink-drive limit or high on cannabis.”