Phones, fines and the fight for safer roads

Phones, fines and the fight for safer roads

Last year, police officers across the UK were involved in a week-long crackdown on mobile phone use behind the wheel - which resulted in almost 8,000 fines being given to drivers1. The Department for Transport have issued new penalties from 1 March 2017, in a bid to discourage this dangerous driving behaviour.

We got back in touch with Sgt Neil Dewson-Smyth from Cheshire Police, and Dr. Lee Hadlington, Senior Lecturer at De Montfort University to discuss the current situation.

Changes for the greater good

The government’s changes to penalties aim to deter motorists from this dangerous driving habit, so we’ve highlighted the changes below:

Penalties for using a phone while driving

The old penalties

  • The fine for being caught using a hand-held mobile devise is £100
  • Three points is added to the drivers’ licence

The new penalties as of 1 March 2017

  • The fine for being caught using a hand-held mobile devise is a fixed penalty fine – increased from £100 to £200
  • Points added to the drivers’ licence has doubled – from three to six points
  • New drivers who are caught using a phone within the first two years of passing their test will have their licence revoked2

I welcome the increased penalties. They create a ”two strikes and you’re out” situation for drivers of more than two years whilst for newer drivers only one infringement will see their licence revoked. I believe this is a powerful message to drivers and that this risk, coupled with a removal of driver awareness courses, will improve driver behaviour.

Sgt Neil Dewson-Smyth

Dangerous driving distractions

The simple act of using a mobile phone while driving can have devastating repercussions on the families of victims, as well as the drivers, yet road users continue to do so. We looked at several factors that encourage mobile phone distraction for drivers:

The fear of disconnecting

We previously investigated FOMO, the ‘fear of missing out’, and its impact on driving behaviour. Hadlington explains how constantly checking your phone could lead to a ‘reward’, such as social media notifications or a text from a close friend – making that individual feel good.

Our Bad Thinking survey3 revealed that more than half of drivers who admitted to checking their phones while driving were: checking notifications (61%), reading (56%) or typing (51%). Hadlington explains how addictive behaviour will distract the driver’s attention from the road:

If the individual is highly connected to the device and aspects of social networking; they may continually glance over to the driver’s seat to check if there have been any alerts; if they feel a vibration in their pocket they may become obsessed with thinking about what that message could be – which could divert attention away from driving.

The fear of missing out socially, or not being connected to a phone, could result in motorists making mistakes or causing an accident.

Instant notification

It’s not just the fear of being disconnected that encourages distracted driving, but also where the phone is kept in the car. Our Bad Thinking survey uncovered where motorists keep their phones while driving:


We asked Hadlington where he thought would be the most distracting place to keep a mobile in a vehicle, he responded: “the position would only be dangerous if it distracts the individual from driving.” This means there’s not a ‘most dangerous position’, but instead depends on how distracted the driver can get by their mobile phone, such as the effects of FOMO or nomophobia. If you can feel a vibration, hear a notification or see a message or call pop up on your screen you’re likely to feel the pull to check your phone.

Avoid jeopardising road safety for others

Using a mobile while driving is against the law, yet drivers will still tempt fate by quickly glancing at incoming messages and other notifications. It’s important that motorists are considerate of other road users and their safety when driving. They just need to remember to keep their eyes on the road ahead, and to only check phones once they’ve reach their destination.


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Additional Sources

[3]Online survey conducted by Aviva, finding out about how drivers engage with their phones. Results based on 2,021 respondents, nationally represented across GB between 11-12th June 2016

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