Tougher punishments proposed for drivers who use mobile phones at the wheel

Motorists caught using a mobile phone while driving are set to face tougher punishments.

Under new Government proposals drivers breaking the law will receive four penalty points rather than three, and fines will also rise by 50 per cent to £150.

Under the measures, drivers of larger vehicles such as HGVs would receive six points for being caught on a hand-held phone – up from three – because the consequences of an accident can be much more severe.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Using a mobile phone at the wheel is reckless and costs lives – I want to see it become a social taboo like not wearing a seatbelt.

“We will take action to tackle this persistent problem, with an emphasis on the most serious offenders.”

However, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) warned that the move would not have a “dramatic impact” unless there were more traffic police officers to enforce the law.

The IAM’s director of policy and research, Neil Greig, said: “We believe increasing penalties for hand-held mobile phone use will not have a dramatic impact.

“What we need is an increase in traffic police officers who enforce tougher regulations, in which motorists would fear using a mobile phone at the wheel because they’ll get caught, as opposed to just getting higher fines.”

Drivers can be banned from the road if they receive 12 points within three years, but most people caught for the first time will be given the opportunity to avoid points on their licence by taking an educational course focussing on the effects of holding a mobile while driving.

In 2014 the use of a mobile phone was a contributing factor in 21 fatal accidents and 84 which were classed as serious, according to Department for Transport (DfT) statistics for Britain.

In October the RAC published analysis of Ministry of Justice data showing that prosecutions for the offence are down by almost half in five years, despite a study showing the practice is more common.

Just 17,414 prosecutions for drivers using their phone at the wheel were launched in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales last year, down by 47 per cent from 32,571 in 2009.

In 2014 a DfT study found that 1.6 per cent of drivers in England were observed using a mobile, up from 1.4 per cent in 2009.

The Government will hold a consultation over the mobile phone proposals, which form part of its road safety plan to be published next week.