Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police are participating in a national week of enforcement action against drivers illegally using handheld devices, as new legislation for penalties takes effect from today (Wednesday, March 1).
Under changes to the law, offenders using a handheld device while driving will receive six points on their driving licence and receive a £200 fine. Previously, this offence had incurred three points and £100 fine.
These changes will have a significant impact on young motorist offenders, who now risk having their driving licence revoked following their first offence.
Furthermore, between the dates of the campaign period (1/3-7/3), anybody caught driving while using their handheld phone will be issued a fixed penalty notice. During this period, there will be no option to undertake an NDORS (National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme) awareness course as an alternative to prosecution.
As of Wednesday 8 March, there will be a change in policy across both Thames Valley and Hampshire in that the NDORS awareness course will no longer be routinely offered as an alternative to a fixed penalty notice. Officers will use their discretion as to whether, in exceptional circumstances, a course is appropriate.
Between January 1 2014 and September 30 2016, there were 56 collisions across Hampshire in which use of a mobile phone while driving may have been a causation factor. These collisions involved a total of four fatalities and 73 injuries.
During the same period, a total of 14,651 tickets were issued to drivers found to be using a mobile device while driving.
Superintendent Simon Dodds, Head of the Joint Roads Policing Unit across both forces, said: “There is never an excuse for someone to be using their mobile phone while driving and this change in legislation sends a clear message that it will not be tolerated.
“To coincide with this change, we will no longer routinely offer the Driver Awareness courses as an alternative to points and a fine.
“This toughened stance sends a message to offenders who use mobiles while driving, and the increased penalties better reflect the seriousness of such driver behaviour.
“All too often, my officers are faced with the devastation caused by motorists who persist on ignoring the dangers and drive while using their handheld phone.
“Lives are tragically lost and families are destroyed by the irresponsible decision to take a call on a handheld device, send a text while driving or search for music.
“The safest way is to put down your phone, switch it to silent and place it out of sight to ensure that you will not be tempted to pick it up.
“Using your mobile phone while driving needs to be considered to be as socially unacceptable as drink/drug-driving, because the consequences can be fatal.
“The message is simple – don’t use your mobile phone while driving – it’s not worth the risk.”
For families who have lost a loved one as a result of a driver on their phone, the penalties will never seem enough.
However, the brother of Lee Martin, who was killed by a driver who was texting immediately before the collision last August, believes it is a step in the right direction.
Darrell Martin said: “I am pleased that these tougher penalties are being introduced however in my opinion more can still be done to properly reflect the danger posed by a conscious decision to act recklessly.
“I feel that phone use at the wheel is just as, if not more, dangerous to society than drink driving and should be regarded in the same way.
“I do not think the danger of phone use will be addressed properly until phone use at the wheel is seen as socially unacceptable.
“But these changes are a step in the right direction and I welcome them.We need to get to the point where everyone is challenging any driver who goes to pick up their mobile phone when driving, just as most of us would do with a drink driver.”
Christopher Gard, 30, of Linnet Way, Alton, was jailed for nine years for causing the death of 48-year-old Lee Martin on the A31 near Bentley.
In a direct appeal to anyone considering using their handheld phone while driving, Darrell Martin added: “Do you think what you are about to do is really important enough to take your eyes off the road?
“My brother was killed by someone that was writing a message to his mate about taking his dog for a walk.
“How do you think we as a family think about that? How do you think my brother would feel if he knew that something so dumb would result in his death?
“And how do think the killer of my brother feels sitting in prison knowing that he killed someone because of that.”
“Please, don’t take that risk.”
Use of handheld mobile phone while driving
What is classed as illegally using a handheld mobile phone?
Scrolling through emails or texts, selecting music tracks to play, making or receiving phone calls or text messages, taking photos are all examples of illegally using a handheld mobile phone.
How can I legally use my mobile phone while driving?
The only time it is legal to use a mobile phone while driving is when it is properly fitted into a handsfree kit which enables its use without you holding the phone and operating the device. From a safety perspective it’s best to turn it off and concentrate on your driving.
Launch of BePhoneSmart.uk
Thames Valley Police and Hampshire Constabulary are supporting the RAC’s new website, BePhoneSmart.uk, which gives drivers the chance to make a promise – to themselves, their family and friends and their employer – that they won’t use a handheld phone while driving.
With the support of the National Police Chiefs Council and the THINK! road safety campaign, drivers who make the promise can share it across their social media profiles and, in doing so, encourage others to do the same. There is also an option for them to upload a photo of themselves, add the Be Phone Smart logo and share this quickly and easily using the hashtag #BePhoneSmart
The TVP / Hampshire road safety hashtag is #ItsNotWorthTheRisk.