The Government crack down on mobile phone use while driving

We’ve grown used to posters and TV ads targeting drink driving. Indeed, we wrote a post recently on the impressive success such campaigns have had reducing alcohol-related deaths on Britain’s roads. Now, the Government is hoping to replicate that success in stamping out another form of dangerous driving; using a mobile phone at the wheel.

The new THINK! campaign has been launched alongside stiffer penalties for people driving while on their phone. Those who are caught will now receive a £200 fine and six points on their licence – double the penalties previously. New drivers who break this law within two years of passing their test could even have their licence revoked entirely.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said these new punishments are intended to ‘act as a strong deterrent’, but they also serve to impress on the public how dangerous it is to use a mobile phone while driving. That latter message is reinforced by a pair of hard-hitting videos from THINK!

The first features three members of the Carvin family describing how their wife and mother Zoë was killed by a driver who was on his phone at the time. ‘It didn’t come about by accident,’ says Zoë’s husband. ‘It was a road crash caused by somebody doing something that he shouldn’t have been doing.’

The second video makes the direct comparison with drink driving. ‘You’re twice as likely to crash text driving as you are drink driving,’ it says. ‘You wouldn’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive.’ The accompanying posters advise you to ‘Make the glove compartment the phone compartment’, and remind you of the fine and licence points you could face if you don’t.

Although it’s the stronger penalties that have grabbed the headlines, these adverts could well have a greater impact in the long run. The change in attitudes to drink driving, brought about by videos like this. helped combat the problem more than any changes in the law.

And changing attitudes will be especially important here, given the difficulty of enforcing the ban on mobile phone use at the wheel. A recent report found that the number of drivers caught on their phones has almost halved in the last five years, even as accidents caused by them have increased. This has been attributed to a decline in the number of traffic officers.

The Government’s efforts to combat phone use while driving are not before time. There were 440 accidents in 2015 in which the driver was on their mobile phone – 22 of which resulted in fatalities. And it could be even higher; the Department for Transport warns that mobile phone use is likely to be under-reported in these statistics.

Driving distracted – by mobile phones, sat navs or anything else – is a relatively new menace on our roads. As Dr Will Murray told us last year,  it has recently joined speeding, tiredness, alcohol and not wearing a seat belt as a member of the ‘Fatal Five’. In our Road Safely Survey 2015/16, more than one in three drivers admitted to driving distracted.

We can only hope that the new spotlight the Government is shining on this menace will be as effective as its long-standing campaign against drink driving, and that the sight of someone driving with a phone in their hand will soon become a thing of the past.