In 2017, the British government is planning to double the penalty associated with drivers using handheld devices to six points and attach a £200 fine in England, Scotland and Wales. The current rules for Northern Ireland are not set to change; here drivers will continue to get three points and a £60 fine. Under these proposed guidelines, new drivers may be forced to retake their driving test, arguably a greater threat than points and a fine. More experienced drivers caught a second time will be sent to court for a driving ban of at least six months and a fine of up to £1,000. The UK government is planning to introduce these stiffer penalties with a new high profile "Think!" road safety campaign. Even so, there are questions raised as to how effective a deterrent the new, higher penalties will be and as to how easily the new fines and points can be applied. This news follows a survey from the British RAC motoring organization highlighting that almost one third of drivers used their devices at the wheel and this number has increased in the last two years. Almost one sixth of questioned drivers claimed to have either taken photographs or recorded video footage at the wheel. And official British figures show that a distracted driver was at least a contributory factor in almost 500 car accidents in 2014. Of these, almost 100 were either fatal or serious.
When it comes to distracted driver enforcement, there are several problems that the UK authorities face. One is that so-called safety cameras are not triggered by cellular activity, only by excess speed over a posted speed limit. Furthermore, there are fewer and fewer transport police on the roads and a feeling among drivers is that they are able to get away with it. In common with much of the world, the British government is pushing a message out to drivers that distracted driving is dangerous, but so far the penalties are not the same as drunk driving, which is considered to be driving with a similar impairment. The British Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, explained: "It may seem harmless when you are replying to a text, answering a call or using an app, but the truth is your actions could kill and cause untold misery to others."
A number of driving organizations have weighed in on the matter with Neil Greig from the Institute of Advanced Motorists stating that he would "strongly" support the option of sending first offenders onto a "mobile phone awareness course," similar to how many UK police authorities invite first speeding offenders to a speed awareness course as an alternative to points and a fine. Edmund Kind, the UK's AA (Automobile Association) president, stated that the new penalties were "radical" but needed "If we are to change the attitudes of young drivers maybe it has to be that harsh."