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Most drivers don’t know mobile phone penalties

Almost two-thirds of drivers are unaware of the punishment for using mobile phones at the wheel, more than 12 months after the introduction of tougher laws, claims a new poll.

The RAC found only 36% of the 2,000 UK motorists surveyed knew offenders face six penalty points and a £200 fine. A quarter (26%) were not aware the penalties became more severe in March 2017.

Just under a third of motorists (31%) believe the current penalties are still not enough of a deterrent to make drivers stop using a phone illegally and 41% reckon more visible enforcement of the law is the key to getting people to change their behaviour rather than introducing even stronger penalties (22%).

Nearly one in five (18%) support blocking mobile phone signals within cars altogether, while one in 10 (10%) think more public awareness campaigns, such as those run by the Government’s THINK! initiative, are what would make persistent drivers finally kick the habit.

Of those who persist in using a handheld phone an overwhelming majority (87%) said it is something they do when they are on their own and not when others are in the car with them.

Nearly four in five (78%) said they continue to do it despite fearing they will get caught by a police officer, while just under a quarter (23%) think they can safely drive and use a handheld phone at the same time.

One in 10 (11%) say they believe the road safety risks of combining driving with something as distracting as using a handheld phone are ‘overstated’.

Reassuringly, 31% of all drivers surveyed said they have made the decision to stop using a handheld phone at the wheel, with a small proportion (12%) having done so after the announcement of the tougher penalties in September 2016.

Drivers gave a range of reasons for deciding to kick the handheld phone habit – nearly half (44%) said it was the impact of road safety campaigns from the likes of THINK! and Be Phone Smart, more than a third (36%) said it was the fear of getting caught and a similar proportion (34%) said it was the risk of causing an accident.

Latest figures show that the number of fatal collisions caused by motorists using a mobile phone while driving are rising. There were 32 fatal collisions in 2016, up from 22 the year before, and a total of 2,210 collisions of all severities where a mobile phone was involved between 2012 and 2016.

Previous RAC research also suggests that around nine million UK motorists habitually use a handheld phone while driving.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “Despite extensive publicity and awareness-raising campaigns run at both a local and national level, it is remarkable that such a high proportion of drivers seemingly remain unaware of the current penalties for using a handheld phone at the wheel.

“What is also clear is that some drivers have a genuine addiction to their phone, given how many are prepared to use it illegally despite fearing they will get caught by the police. And the fact the vast majority of drivers who admit to offending do so when on their own suggests it is something they don’t really want others to see them doing.”

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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