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Drivers unconvinced new laws on handheld phone use at the wheel will make roads safer

The majority of drivers are unconvinced that strengthened laws on handheld mobile phone use at the wheel will make the roads safer.

Since 25 March drivers now face six penalty points and a £200 fine if they are caught using a handheld phone at the wheel for virtually any reason after a loophole in the law was closed. New RAC research shows four-in-10 aren’t aware of the changes being introduced and just 2% believe it will be very effective in improving driver behaviour.

Before the changes, a loophole existed where drivers might only receive a maximum of three penalty points and a £100 fine for using a handheld phone for actions that didn’t involve any form of telecommunication – for instance, for scrolling through music playlists or taking a photo or video.

In November 2021, the Government confirmed that the law would be toughened to ensure almost any use of a handheld phone would be punishable with six points and a £200 fine.

While most of the 2,000 drivers surveyed by the RAC (75%) are fully supportive of the change in the law, many are sceptical as to how effective it will be in getting offending drivers to change their behaviour and make the roads safer. Just 2% of drivers said they thought it will be ‘very effective’, with 49% thinking it would be ‘partly effective’ and a similar proportion – 45% – saying it won’t be effective.

Of those who have concerns the roads won’t be made safer by the changes, 86% say that it’s because some drivers will always persist in using a phone illegally regardless of the law, while seven-in-10 say the problem is that drivers don’t feel they’re likely to get caught in the first place. Nearly three-in-10 fear not enough will be done to let drivers know about the changes.

When it comes to what drivers think needs to be done to reduce the number of people using a handheld phone illegally at the wheel, drivers are split. Almost equal proportions believe that more visible police enforcement, a high-profile advertising campaign and even tougher laws – such as the threat of a driver losing their licence altogether if caught. A fifth meanwhile would like to see cameras used to catch drivers acting illegally.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said on the day of the new changes: “It’s clear that most drivers are supportive of the law being strengthened to make it easier to prosecute drivers who put lives at risk by using a handheld phone – after all, using a phone to take a photo or look at a playlist is at least as distracting as using it to talk or text.

“But while we welcome today’s law change and very much hope it will make a difference, it’s arguable that it will only be truly effective if it’s rigorously enforced. If some drivers still don’t feel they’re likely to be caught, then simply making the law tougher isn’t going to have the desired effect of making our roads safer. That explains why such a tiny proportion of drivers – just 2% - think the new changes will be very effective in changing behaviour.

“The dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement, and that means police forces having the resources and technology they need to more easily catch those drivers that continue to flout the law. Cameras that can automatically detect handheld phone use exist and are in use in other countries, so we think it’s high time the UK Government evaluated this technology with a view to allowing police forces to deploy it at the earliest opportunity.”


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