/ Motoring, Technology

Are drivers still flouting the law by using their mobiles?

Should the authorities come down harder on drivers using mobile phones? The penalties might be severe, but do you think they are being sufficiently enforced?

I was on my way to work the other day when a pedestrian walked out in front of my bike, without looking. Only once I’d swerved past him could I see the other side of his face where a mobile was rammed to his ear.

He was mid-conversation, not even considering what he’d just done. I missed him by a whisker and I must have caused him to jump out of his skin. He was back on the pavement when I turned back to give him the most scornful look I could muster!

I thought his actions were pretty gormless and had I hit him, he would have been totally to blame. In London, this behaviour seems pretty much the norm. And while I’ve noticed it happening in my home town, it isn’t nearly as commonplace.

But it’s so much worse when someone in a vehicle is on their phone. Things suddenly become a whole lot more serious.

Harsh penalties for calling in your car

When we asked you about your driving bugbears, drivers using mobile phones was the second biggest irritant, taking 20% of your votes.

The act of using a hand-held mobile while driving is certainly illegal, with an automatic £60 penalty and three points on your licence if you’re caught. And if it were to go to court, the penalty could go up to £2,500 for a public service or heavy goods vehicle, or £1,000 for a car. You could also be banned from driving.

These are severe deterrents but, to me, they don’t seem to be working (from seeing so many drivers still flouting the law). Are the rules enforced? Or are drivers left to tootle along, phone clamped to ear and one hand on the wheel?

The dangers of driving on the phone

The Institute of Advanced Motorists recently published research claiming the use of mobile phones while driving is more dangerous than drink driving. Admittedly they were looking at reaction times while doing something as stupid as trying to access social networking sites, rather than simply making a call.

Frankly, it never occurred to me that anyone would try to access the internet on their smartphone while also at the controls of a car! But it seems, however daft this action might seem, the police need to look out for people trying to update Facebook on the move.

I have a couple of friends who are policemen and they’ve spoken of giving people verbal warnings about mobile use, but as far as I know they rarely actually apply any penalties.

So, should we come down harder on offenders? While most people on mobiles don’t necessarily have accidents, the risk that their negligence might cause a collision or hit someone is, in my view, too high.

Should the authorities come down harder on drivers using mobile phones?

Yes - we need more severe penalties and further enforcement (60%, 286 Votes)

Yes - the penalties are severe enough; they just need to be enforced (34%, 163 Votes)

No - the problem of drivers using mobile phones is overblown (5%, 22 Votes)

No - the penalties are just right and they're being properly enforced (2%, 9 Votes)

Total Voters: 483

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As some people don’t seem to care about fines or points, I’d see to see people who have been stopped for using a mobile, simply having the mobile phone sim card and all taken from them on the spot. The police can then destroy the sim in front of them (with all their precious data) and then at a later date sell the phone to help raise money to fund the police.

And for repeat offenders, the police just take the car as well as the phone. And no getting your belongings out of the car either.

And for those thinking this is a bit extreme I have one phrase for you. “Don’t use your phone while driving”.

Last week I had to brake to avoid hitting a large 4WD vehicle being driven round a corner on the wrong side of the road by someone with a phone in one hand. I received a pleasant smile for my action.

I have had to brake or otherwise take avoiding action on numerous occasions. Sometimes the drivers have been negotiating junctions and roundabouts with one hand on the wheel and their phone in the other hand. Hands-free phones may help but drivers can be in a world of their own when on the phone.

I do not normally support radical action, but William’s suggestion might be what is needed to make drivers stop using their phones.

Perhaps we should have an automated phone service to report the registration number of a vehicle being driven by a phone user. It would be difficult to refute several independent reports.

The problem is that the minimum penalty (£60) is far too low. The penalty should be at least as much as a factory-fitted Bluetooth hands-free (i.e. in the region of £500), otherwise it will always be cheaper to hold a phone to one’s ear than to buy the proper equipment. Even with the proper equipment in both my cars, I keep incoming calls as brief as possible and generally only make outgoing calls that relate to my journey; one’s attention can be easily distracted with both hands on the wheel.

Apparently this video was made in Belgium to get learner drivers to realise how dangerous it is to text and drive.


Being YouTube I can’t tell you if the claims are true, but seeing how people drive when trying to text should put people off if they don’t already realise the dangers.

Brilliant video Jonathan. I couldn’t agree more with the comments on this post so far – texting while driving is so incredibly dangerous, it seems Iike current measures simply don’t go far enough. I see this driving behaviour every day and have had plenty of near-misses with mobile-wielding drivers.

Like speeding – it seems to me that people are willing to take the risk with mobiles, as the likelihood is that they won’t get caught. If they do, a £60 fine and a few points is hardly the end of the world. I’d be happy to see the penalty rise steeply – but the issue here is mostly around getting that message out to enough people that it actually makes a significant difference. Additionally – enforcement gets more difficult (and unlikely) the more the police are stretched.

Maybe one day they’ll find some tech (like speed cameras) to help stamp this out, or maybe police should make a concerted effort over the next year (for example) to crack down on mobile use so, like speeding, we’d soon all know someone who had been caught out.

Chris Wilmot says:
14 May 2012

Completely agree that the phone and sim card should be ‘impounded’ immediately and either destroyed or removed to a ”Phone Pound” , and the owner charged £250 to get it back. This would be in addition to the automatic £500 for breaking the law. Also they should get 6 penalty points on the licence.
I see this law infringement several times a day, including by mothers with young children in the back!
If the police can have blitzes on drink driving why not on ‘ mobile driving’?

The amount of the fine is not the issue
The people flouting the law is not the issue.

It’s all about “enforcement”

When all these new laws are brought in, politicians can say “yes I introduced this law and it has succeeded in x number of cases”.

In reality there was already a law – driving without due care and attention – yet if it isn’t enforced, they just create a newer, more specific law.

Driving whilst on the phone (hands-free or not) inhibits the drivers responses. This is the same if you have a passenger. Say if your other half was having a go at you, that is in fact more distracting than someone on a phone because you can just turn them off.

Your other half just won’t shut up, where’s the law for that?

For years we all desired and salivated over this tech’, phones in cars.
The only man we all new who had one was Simon Templer [the Saint] and it was so cool, I and every one I knew just couldn’t wait until they invented carphones the common man could use, even the first big mobile phone seller was called the Carphone warehouse.
You know what they say about getting what you ask for.
Now I wish that they would build field generators in cars so the damned things just will not work unless you get out of the car or stop and switch it off. Same in buses, and please tell me, why do we need them on the London underground…

Had heard there’s an Israeli-made mobile phone signal jamming device
that can de-activate but for reasons not made entirely clear, is not marketed,
possibly also opposed by those with vested interests.

Existing penalty is far too low and in my observations,
very rarely enforced… there have been cases of RTAs directly
attributed to such phone use resulting in deaths.

Shd hope such use of phone when driving provide incontrovertible
proof of negligence w/out more in civil cases AND a much tougher
(quasi/criminal) regime attaches, and what’s more, be rigorously enforced.

The suggestion by ‘wavechange’ as to reporting by others seems to
be a good one and easily corroborated.

Yes, more enforcement is required along with much stiffer penalties. And what you might occasionally observe through the windscreen of an oncoming vehicle is just the tip of the iceberg.

I work on the second floor of an office building where I can see straight into the driver’s area of passing vehicles. It’s a busy road with numerous hazards for inattentive drivers. Apart from the obvious mobile-phone-to-ear, drivers can be observed texting or dialling, changing gear with the wrong hand, writing and referring to notes, eating or smoking, and sometimes managing to do all at the same time.

Other drivers are clearly confused by the term “hands-free”. Presumably they must think this applies to the steering wheel, not the mobile phone, as they drive along with the aid of knees or elbows!

As the majority of offenders seem to be driving repmobiles or commercial vehicles, there should be very severe penalties on the employers of these individuals, for either failing to provide the necessary hands-free equipment to make the practice legal or, better still, ensuring that employment polices prohibit the use of mobile phones whilst driving. A £5,000 penalty for making or taking a business phone call whilst driving would not be too excessive.

Terry Clark says:
14 May 2012

Whenever I encounter someone talking on a mobile held to their ear whilst driving, I sound my horn, thus disrupting their conversation.
I’ve just bought a car which has ‘bluetooth’/handsfree installed. I will never use it; how do I remove it?

Barryg says:
15 May 2012

There should be more effective ways by which citizens can report the registration of drivers using a mobile while driving. A big society opportunity?

Be careful as this is a slippery slope: Whilst we all condemn the usage of mobiles [and texting, just how stupid are these people] whilst driving, and wish to do something about it, this willingness to report things we don’t like / consider dangerous can have consequences. Need I remind you that Croydon council place cctvs in peoples houses to spy on their neighbours who do things they don’t like, such as put out dustbins on the wrong day. The willingness to report others for the right reasons is soon corrupted by Governments into us spying on each other for all the wrong reasons.
There is absolutely no need to use a phone whilst driving, therefore cars should be equipped with a localised field generator which makes it impossible to use a phone whilst the engine is switched on. In the rare occasions when you do have to make an emergency call, 999 would activate a distress signal, on a different frequency, allowing you to get hold of the emergency services.
We usually find that technologies like this are available, but are not used as the Government is more interested in revenue gained via fines, than in public safety.

Field generators: I assume you mean localised to the drivers seat? Why penalise the passangers?

In fact its when I have a passenger I could employ her as free child labour to video and message in any offending motorist we pass. If only we had a national number to text to.

Using a phone jammer is illegal in the UK and could cause all sorts of interference problems with phones and other equipment.

The type of device I am referring to would be very local turning the inside of the car into a dead spot for the frequencies used for mobile phones, this would be so weak it would not have any effect outside of the car. The cars themselves would be unaffected by this, I suppose with the right tweaking satnav would be unaffected too.
Mind you the thought of some driver with half his body hanging out of the window still trying to make a call on the move, springs to mind. There really is no end to human stupidity is there.

As for passengers, when I say there is no need to use a phone whilst driving this applies to them too. I am not a taxi driver, I don’t see why when ferrying family & friends around they should be so discourteous as to ignore me completely whilst wittering on to someone on the phone.
Human nature being what it is, the tendency is to listen to others phone calls and try and work out what the other party is saying [cant help it, blame my genes], this requires an immense amount of concentration and whilst driving can be distracting, if on the other hand your passenger talks to you, you can concentrate on the road, ignoring them except for the occasional grunt to show your listening.
If your passenger wants to make a call, pull off the road turn off the engine, let them tell so & so that you will be there in 15 minutes.

If you haven’t spotted we’ve added a poll to this Conversation, asking ‘Should the authorities come down harder on drivers using mobile phones?’ Vote away!

Barryg wrote:

There should be more effective ways by which citizens can report the registration of drivers using a mobile while driving.

I read that in the wrong way. I’m definitely not going to use my mobile when I’m driving, even to report others. 🙂

john mccolgan says:
15 May 2012

It should now be noted by “phoning drivers” that upon conviction, you will find that 5 YES FIVE of the main car insurers are now declining to insure you AT ALL. That’s how seriously the insurers consider your outrageously dangerous behaviour. Maybe that will make people change their behaviour.

Lotruss says:
11 June 2012

Interesting debate.
I drive over 1500 miles a week in a van nationally. So being sat higher I can see into most vehicles on the road. Some off the things i’ve seen over the years you wouldn’t be able to publish but by far the most common, at least 20 times a day is driving while using a mobile, sometimes taking notes as well. Some people slow down and pull into the nearside lane but still carry on with the call. But by far the worst are those that go hurtling past at silly speeds ie: 80+. one wrong move and it can mean a multiple pile up with numerous casualties. My by the way van is fitted with full hands free which we’re not supposed to answer when mobile, a restrictor & also a tracker so we have to obey the speed limits.
I think the police could do a lot more but they don’t seem to bothered with enforcing many of our traffic laws.
Maybe there should be publication of the figures of those caught in the act as well as the fact of the insurance boycott, but hey they recond to be 2 000 000 illegal cars and drivers on our roads already so again what are the government doing about that.

Yes enforcement is an issue and penalties should be higher.

Pedestrians as noted are an issue too.

John Doe says:
15 May 2012

I recently, well about 6 months ago did a trip of approx 3 miles to the other side of town and back on a sunny Saturday and counted 17 people on the phone. I cant remember exactly whether it was more male or females but generally I have found the younger generation to be flouting the law and lately noticing dipped eyes and chin whilst at the wheel is indicative of checking facebook status etc updates, a quick glance to the phone lodged between the legs. Its appaling that the punishment is so low. However I do not believe that is the only case. I usually drive up to 300 miles on a weekend going to various events and hand on my heart I can not remember the last time I saw a police car.

Just this sunday I did a round trip of 200 miles from London to Calshot and back and not a single marked police car.

In Wales recently I was behind a Isuzu 4×4 lady driving, all over the place, quickly realised she was holding a phone up to her ear, approaching a roundabout had no idea what to do, looked left and saw a police 4×4 she carried on talking saying her bye and just about got off the phone as the lights went green. the Police carried on as usual. which left me soooo confused they saw her first car at the light and yet still didnt do anyting.

Reminds me of the time I saw some chavvy teen lad texting away in his beat up old bucket, I was so incensed at his inattention to the road that I didn’t see the motorcycle in front of me, luckily I only tapped him and thankfully he had a great sense of humour.

Rosie says:
15 May 2012

I feel very strongly that people should not use mobile phones in a moving vehicle. (If stuck in traffic, I don’t see a problem with a quick text or call, even though I wouldn’t do it whilst it’s against the law).
I feel even more strongly, though, that television presenters shouldn’t be allowed to film in a moving vehicle. This is far more dangerous than speaking on a mobile phone – ie a television presenter (and especially someone who isn’t an experienced presenter as in, eg, the current programme about Chatsworth House) needs far more concentration to think of what they’re saying to a television camera than someone speaking on a mobile to a family member or close friend, especially a quick “I’m going to be late” or similar conversation. Also, the amount of time the presenters take their eyes off the road to look at either the camera or people in the car is appalling.
I’d like to see Which start a new campaign to stop this, especially as every day we watch TV we see presenters driving and talking to camera. Anyone who previously didn’t use their mobile phone in a car might now think why should they bother not to when TV companies are getting away with something far more dangerous.

According to the Directgov website you must not use a mobile phone when stopped at traffic lights or while queuing in traffic.

Fair enough, but if there is a major holdup because of an accident etc. I hope the police would exercise tolerance, provided that the engine is switched off before making a call.

An ambulance was on an emergency call, a friend of mine pulled over into a bus lane to let it pass, he received a fine, when challenged he was told that he should have put his hazard lights on whilst in the bus lane. The fine was not withdrawn and he had to pay.
When the local authorities / Government place revenue gathering above all else, common sense goes out of the window.
Pull over and switch of the engine, then make that call. Or stop the car in the traffic queue, turn off the engine, step out of the car and call, if challenged. You have broken down and are calling the mechanic for advice [that’s if you can bear to be economical with the truth].

2 events that define todays obsession with revenue collection at all costs.
The iconic picture of the traffic ‘attendant’ ticketing a lorry that had sunk up to its axle into a pothole, she did this whilst the driver was still in the cab calling for help.
A motor cycle crash in central London, the police had moved the wreckage out of the road so traffic could flow, whilst the paramedics were trying to save the motorcyclists life by operating on him by the roadside. Along came a traffic ‘attendant’ and ticketed the wreckage of the bike.

Ah traffic “attendants” 🙁 All too often I’d see them ticket people for being 2 seconds over in a pre defined bay (not causing an obstruction) yet ignore all the people parking on a roundabout (obviously causing an obstruction) to use the nearby cash machine. If that doesn’t further define the obession with revenue collection I don’t know what does.

@ m.

Oxford Dictionaries define operate as:

* (no object) perform a surgical operation: my brother had to be operated on last week

Goodness me….surely you are not suggesting paramedics have taken to doing
such a task by the roadside?

Use of hazard warning lights is important/crucial when called for, omission thereof goes
as to negligence in RTA civil cases. Ignorance of the law is not a valid excuse, tough
as it may seem.

@Argonaut of the seas.
Yes they do, on the roadside, on pub / club floors etc… When they have no choice the medics do perform surgical procedures including open heart surgery if it is the only chance they have to save a life.
Here is an extract from a recent crime report.

“Quesada only fled when the victim’s son-in law Mark Jenkins threw a chair at him, halting the attack, as Mr Smith’s horrified partner Denise Facey looked on, the court was told.
As Mr Smith’s life ebbed away an air ambulance doctor had to perform emergency heart surgery on a cafe table that formed a ‘make-shift operating table.’
He was flown to hospital where he died from his wounds, three of which were fatal.”

Full report here:

I am aware of the hazard lights for RTAs etc, and agree tough but necessary. But my pal had pulled over to allow an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring to pass, and then back into the lane behind it, this was not an RTA or hazard situation, he did what the highway code requires. There was no need for him to put on his hazards, he indicated left before pulling over, and right when he rejoined the carrigeway, this whole action took just a few seconds.

@ m.

Believe an ambulance doctor is NOT strictly deemed a paramedic, the
basic medical qualifications they have commonly the MB BS or MB ChB
include as to a surgery qualification and in a REAL emergency, I suppose
they can utilise their limited surgical skills to operate but surgical
procedures/operations in hospitals are normally carried out by qualified
surgeons having the FRCS by examination involving years of study
AND training (often five) post their basic MB.

If I were in a car in a queue and there is a bus lane for the ambulance to pass
(undertake), I probably wd have remained stationary unless it was somehow causing
an obstruction preventing access of vehicle lawfully intending to overtake or

Many if not most misdemeanors committed on the roads are in fact
strict liability offences where the requisite mental element is totally
irrelevant/unnecessary to convict.

It seems yr pal was hard done by given the circumstances.

@Argonaut of the seas.
I did not mean to conjure up visions of a fully gowned highly trained surgical team doing their bit at the roadside, [ I have just had an idea based on this for a Goodies sketch, shame I am a few years too late]. Rather as you have indicated, people with some training doing their best to save a life on scene, if this last resort measure means emergency operations by those with limited skills then so be it. But I draw the line at someone who has ‘seen this on telly’ having a go!

The ambulance could not undertake due to a bus stopped in the bus Lane, it could not overtake due to oncoming traffic, my pal had to move forward and pull in front of the parked bus, to enable the Ambulance to pass. So yes I believe he was treated unfairly, unfortunately unlike those of us here, he prefers to roll over rather than make a fuss, so after a brief objection he paid up.

@ m.

Self wd probably have case proceed to Court on a refusal to pay
given nature of my disposition, arguably case cd not necessarily wd succeed in my favour
on identical facts. In a case I’d actually encountered, was detained on roadside,
was HANDCUFFED, charged with a Public Order Section 5 offence over a deemed minor road ‘incident’ that I refused to pay fine of £80. Police INSIST on their day in Court on account of that;
well before case management hearing, I simply wrote to CPS setting out
the facts, my version of events was believed in preference and prosecution discontinued
or dropped entirely. It was all pure fabrication on the part of the police.

[Importantly, quite apart from actual level of fine imposed even if well-affordable,
there’s potentially the serious repercussions of having a criminal record on a
conviction (apart from and of very minor misdemeanors].

The uptake of all these positive developments is that I myself proceeded to SUE
for various tortious acts committed (and as to seeking remedies) and I sure enough
succeeded in recovering damages.
[ because of adverse costs consequences, one does not instruct a legal team
in respect of claims not exceeding £5000 which was the upper limit in my case].

Believe doctors’ VOLUNTEERING may VOID their professional indemnity insurance,
so you rarely if ever hear uttered in public ‘….I’m a doctor, can I help?’

Wow! Handcuffed, lucky he didn’t ‘tickle you’ with his truncheon!
Reminds me of the campaign the Daily mail ran some years ago, they invited the ‘middle classes’ to give accounts of their encounters with the police.
The government had to stop them as there were so many letters outlining treatment similar to your experience, the government said this campaign was undermining confidence in the police force.
I notice they did not say tut tut, if that is what is happening maybe we should have a look at police training.
For every person such as you who is knowledgeable and tenacious enough to deal with this bullying behaviour, there are dozens, like my pal, who roll over and let the authorities know they can ‘get away with it’.

I spend a great deal of time in the US, I have known Doctors [my relatives, so I can vouch for this] to run away from accidents, they know if they help and something goes wrong, they will get sued.

I can feel Patrick staring disapprovingly over my shoulder as I write this so better get back on topic