Motoring organisation the AA and the charity Cycling UK have joined forces to urge the Government to get tougher on motorists who illegally use mobile devices at the wheel and to close a loophole that allows drivers who have amassed 12 penalty points to escape a ban because it will cause them hardship.
Their joint appeal, aimed at highlighting the concerns of a broad spectrum of road users, comes as MPs and members of the House of Lords take part in a Westminster Hall debate today about the Ministry of Justice’s forthcoming review of motoring offences and sentencing.
In September, the Government announced plans to double the penalty for illegal use of a handheld device such as a mobile phone while driving to a £200 fine plus six penalty points.
But road safety organisations believe that in the absence of enforcement that will still be an insufficient deterrent since many motorists who drive while using handheld devices believe they won’t be caught.
Recent Home Office statistics show that the number of fines issued for the offence last year were around a tenth of what they had been a decade earlier, despite the rise of smartphones and social networks in the intervening period.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's senior road safety and legal campaigns officer, said: “Now is the time to make distracted driving, like texting and driving, as taboo as not wearing a seatbelt or drink-driving.
“We must tackle this problem head-on because it led to 22 deaths and 440 crashes last year.”
Those figures relate solely to incidents specifically attributed to mobile phone use in police collision reports.
It’s likely that many more linked to use of mobile devices, including phones will have been attributed to ‘in-vehicle distraction’ with government figures attributing 61 deaths and 2,920 crashes in which someone was killed or seriously injured last year to that factor.
“The devastating consequences of distracted driving are vividly portrayed in our latest campaign film, Cadence, which we released last week,” said AA president Edmund King.
“Hopefully, our collective efforts to affect behaviour change, together with the Government’s recent announcement intending to increase penalties for mobile phone use while driving, will help to make this mobile madness socially unacceptable," he added.
According to the AA and Cycling UK, there are currently around 8,600 motorists on Britain’s roads who have been given 12 penalty points but were allowed to keep their driving licences.
The organisations have urged that new drivers who commit the offence as well as repeat offenders should be disqualified from driving and that a reprieve should only be given “in truly extraordinary circumstances, not just because a ban would cause inconvenience or predictable hardship.”
Last month, van driver Christopher Gard was jailed for nine years after he killed cyclist Christopher Martin in 2015 while sending a text.
Just six weeks earlier, Gard, who had eight previous convictions for using a mobile phone, had persuaded magistrates to let him keep his licence so as not to suffer ‘exceptional hardship.’
The motorist is appealing against his sentence.
Dollimore said: “Cycling UK wants to see drivers who repeat-offend off the road before they kill or cause serious injury. Something the current review will not address.
“That is why Cycling UK has joined forces with the AA – to show Government that road users are collectively serious about ending avoidable deaths and serious injuries on our roads.”
He added: “The Government must act now to prevent grotesque spectacles like this Gard case from happening again. We need no more delays from this Government on what is such an important matter.
“Cycling UK has been waiting for a full and proper review of motoring offences and penalties since May 2014. Further delay would put many more lives at risk.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.