Road Safety News

New road safety plan includes tougher penalties for mobile phone offences

Monday 21st December 2015

The government has published a new road safety plan which includes proposals to increase penalties for drivers caught using a mobile phone, and allowing learner drivers on motorways.

The government hopes that the plan will "build on Britain’s excellent road safety record". All the specific proposals announced in the plan will be discussed in a series of consultations during 2016.

With regard to mobile phone offences, the vast majority of first time offenders will not incur a fixed penalty notice or penalty points but will instead be offered an educational course, at the discretion of the police.

For the majority of drivers and riders (cars, vans, motorbikes) the current three penalty points will be increased to four and the fine will increase from £100 to £150.

For drivers of larger vehicles such as HGVs, where the consequences of a collision can be much more severe, the penalty points will increase from the current three to six.

Other measures announced include £50m of funding to train the next generation of cyclists through the Bikeability scheme; and a £750,000 grant in 2015/16 for police forces in England and Wales to help them build drug-driving enforcement capability.

The road safety plan also includes the following:

• Consulting on options for a drug-drive rehabilitation scheme course and a high-risk offenders regime for drug-drivers.

• Consulting on legislative changes to improve urban cycle safety by ensuring that side guards and rear under-run devices are not removed from HGVs, but remain permanently fitted.

• Consulting on proposals to support safety for motorcyclists, who account for 19% of all road deaths, including better training and improved safety equipment.

• Consulting on ways to incentivise and reward the uptake of more pre-test practice, as first announced in the government’s motoring services strategy consultation on 13 November

• Undertaking a £2m research programme to identify the best possible interventions for learner and novice drivers.

• Providing a broader range of ‘real-world’ driving experiences for learner drivers, including deregulating to allow approved driving instructors with dual-controlled cars to offer lessons on motorways.

• Undertaking a road safety management capacity review, to identify areas for improved joint working, local innovation and efficiency.

The RAC says the use of mobile phones by drivers is one of motorists’ top safety concerns, and in October it expressed concern over “a worrying mismatch” between the level of mobile phone offences motorists see happening on the roads, and the number of prosecutions

Talking to the Telegraph,  Patrick McLoughlin (pictured), transport secretary, said: “Using a mobile phone at the wheel is reckless and costs lives – I want to see it become a social taboo like not wearing a seatbelt.

“We will take action to tackle this persistent problem, with an emphasis on the most serious offenders. The message is clear: keep your hands on the wheel, not your phone. If you keep taking calls while at the wheel, you could end up being banned from the road.”

Iain Temperton, Road Safety GB director of communications, said: "It is encouraging that DfT have seen fit to publish their proposals; this is an excellent 'heads up' for all of us who wish to influence the thinking in these processes.

"As the consultations are published we need to provide balanced and factual argument to further promote advances in road safety.

"No doubt our newsfeed will provide a forum for discussion of each of the issues, but we will also be engaging with central government to let them have our views as an organisation, on behalf of the road safety profession."

Talking to the Guardian, Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, welcomed the move. “One in five young drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test so putting the learning process under the spotlight has to be a good thing,” he said.

“Mile for mile, motorways are our safest roads but can be intimidating places for novice drivers. Exploring ways of letting learners have controlled access to them is welcome. The important thing is the official seal of approval provided by the approved driving instructor who will accompany them down the slip road. This is definitely not the time to have mum or dad in the passenger seat.”


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If an approved private company's tender is the lowest, i.e below the LA's (amongst others), under the rules of CCT and also in the interests of responsible public spending, there's nothing wrong with the eventual provider being the cheapest. Perhaps the company deliberately cut their profit margin to the bone anyway, to win the contract.
I don't think attendees on the SACs are terribly bothered about who gets their money. For four hours much-needed driver education which they wouldn't otherwise bother seeking out, it's good value. All of which has nothing to do with this story of 'tougher penalties for mobile phone offences' which has now become a story related to speeding offences.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

Not all diversionary courses are commercially run - some are provided by local authorities through the competitive tendering process. Where commercial companies provide these services they clearly make a profit why else would they be doing it? It is reasonable to think that a local authority should be able to provide the same service at a lower cost, without the need to make a profit for shareholders.

We would like to see more authorities becoming providers and if there is any "surplus" funding at the end of the year, it can be used by them to fund local road safety programmes.

The host police force also receives an income that is used to fund the camera enforcement operations. There are a small number of police areas, including North Yorkshire and Wales, where surplus funding from these operations is allocated to fund other road safety programmes through their local partnerships. It would be good to see all Police and Crime Commissioners committing any surplus income from diversionary courses to be invested in road safety work this way.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (7) | Disagree (1)


It would help everyone to establish your credibility on such matters as compliance with road laws if you could explain the circumstances by which you seem to have managed to gain a greater experience of these courses than most of us.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde "To attend one speed awareness course may be regarded as a misfortune; to attend two looks like carelessness."
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (3) | Disagree (0)

Happy New Year to one and all (please do not disagree with this!)

Since 2010 when the death knell sounded for the Road Safety Grant, there has been growing pressure for the fees for Speed Awareness to offset the operational costs of detection and referral. Also I understand v.a.t. is levied on the course fees. So it would appear the Treasury does not lose out completely and the profit to private enterprise is not perhaps as large as suggested. While the involvement of private companies may be contentious, Police forces would probably fall foul of procurement legislation if they did not tender for the contract.

It is of course impossible to generalise on this matter as Police forces are autonomous and set their thresholds and fees independently.

This notwithstanding I would welcome a review of how diversionary courses are financed. It is no longer possible for changes in Government policy to be subsumed without a clear understanding of how they are to be funded.
Tim Philpot

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Sorry Nick, you and the 5 who agree with you should know me better than that by now. Having attended 3 courses over the years I know, as many others do, that these courses are always fully booked for weeks ahead - by drivers wanting to avoid points of course.

And not just locally but everywhere I have checked on the web. Further, the 30 people at £100 a head is pretty standard, while my estimate of £500 costs per session is a generous one for long-term booking of a modest room in a modest hotel, coffee and biscuits and 2 presenters who also serve as receptionists.

I never, repeat never, state as fact anything for which I do not have a reasonable basis to believe.

And if more of your readers realise that I might hope to see fewer "dislikes" about statements of plain fact?
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (4) | Disagree (12)

Idris (two posts below this one)
You say Pete is 'mistaken on several points' but I should point out this is your opinion rather than a statement of fact (as you have presented it). And the figures you use in the first para to arrive at the 'extraordinary margin' achieved by course providers are based on your assumptions about number of attendees and costs associated with running the courses - assumptions you have made to substantiate the point you wish to make.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (14) | Disagree (1)

I agree entirely with Paul - this is simply not acceptable in a supposedly democratic country.

And Hugh - the difference between fines and course fees is that the profits of awareness course providers go to private companies and shareholders while fines go to the Treasury, i,e, to us. A rather important, and indeed obvious, difference.

Quite apart that all of the information made available by courses could be provided to far more drivers at almost nil cost on the web or indeed on the back of a cornflake packet. How about it, RSGB? Why not set up web pages about safe driving?
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (1) | Disagree (7)

Pete - you are mistaken on several points. £100 a head for 30 people = £3,000 less costs of no more than £500 is not a modest profit for the providers but an extraordinary margin by any standards - and that money is lost to the Treasury.

In any case, making courses available only to those speeding by modest margins make them a self-selecting group less likely that other speeders to do the same again - especially as many buy camera detectors to avoid it.

And police patrols monitor and inhibit all forms of dangerous driving and other problems, not just speeding.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

Agree (1) | Disagree (9)

Dereck, you say: "If we are to seek banning hands free use, then we also need to seek banning speaking with passengers in the car - it has the same effect - distraction."

But the conditions are entirely different. When in your car the other person:
a) has a vested interest in your car not colliding.
b) Can see the conditions on the road
c) Can see your emotions, body language, etc and therefore communicates far more precisely.

All of these are completely different when the driver is engaging with a remote person on the other end of a phone. Hence your comment trying to use the justification of talking to passengers as equal justification of talking on a hands free phone is not credible.
Rod King, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (17) | Disagree (2)

You've obviously never been to a road traffic accident where the seat belt wearing, front seat occupant was killed by the non seat belt wearing back seat occupant? Regards the difference in mobile phone use compared to talking to the person next to you in the vehicle, there's a big difference in that someone who is with you when you are talking to them is able to read your body language and external signs from the environment you are both sharing and know when to alter their tone or even flow of conversation in response to their observations of the above factors. A remote conversationalist on the other end of a device is not and this is a BIG factor in the distraction stakes. The fact that you've never been involved in an accident so far is luck and indicates that you should consider buying a lottery ticket this week. ;)
Jim Sanderson, Kent

Agree (15) | Disagree (2)

I used hands free communications whilst working as a courier, both for phone and two way radio. Never had an accident due to their use. If we are to seek banning hands free use, then we also need to seek banning speaking with passengers in the car - it has the same effect - distraction.

The transport secretary seeking to make mobile phone a taboo whilst driving is laudable in part, but to compare it with seat belt wearing is disingenuous. The wearing or not of a seat belt affects only the person wearing/not wearing same. It does not affect other road users unlike the using of a mobile phone whilst driving.
Derek Reynolds, Salop.

Agree (8) | Disagree (15)

Hugh, may last word on this, it's about the financial incentive to send drivers on courses and where the money ends up. If we want more resources, then we need a system that puts money into the cash-strapped Treasury. The whole point of the April 2007 rule change regarding camera funding was to provide a fixed road safety grant to be spent on the most appropriate safety measures rather than simply installing more speed cameras. Since 2010 the speed awareness course has blatantly been used to circumvent the 2007 rule change.
Paul Biggs, Tamworth

Agree (3) | Disagree (7)

Couldn't Paul Biggs have made better use of his MP's time and position of influence, to ask about getting more police and technological resources to detect all these offences and not get bogged down in a time-consuming and irrelevant side-issue? What does it matter who provides the courses?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (10) | Disagree (6)

Many thanks Martin - it does, at least partly, but I'm not questioning the legality of courses per se, but the involvement of Limited companies. The act is dated 2006, but some courses started in 2002. It may well be that the entire system is legal, even if some aspects of it aren't necessarily desirable to some of us, or involve conflicts of interests.
Paul Biggs, Tamworth

Agree (9) | Disagree (4)

Paul - doesn't the Road Safety Act 2006 S.34 cover this provision?
Martin, Dorset

Agree (6) | Disagree (2)

Pete (Liverpool): I'm currently raising the legality of speed awareness courses, the financial incentive, and coercion to avoid 3 licence points with my MP - I received a note from him today acknowledging receipt of my email. Join the dots yourself with the facts: Since April 2007, speeding fines have to go direct to the Treasury, speed awareness course fees don't. The eligibility for a course has been increased from 10% plus 6mph to 10% Plus 9mph. In 2014 around 1.3 million drivers were sent on speed awareness courses instead of receiving 3 licence points (that's treble over 5 years).

As for legality, the CPS cite Lord Shawcross in the 1950s, and more recently Lord North, that not every case should go to court and courses should be offered instead. That said, the fixed penalty normally avoids court anyway. Common law and police caution is also cited, but I still don't see where in law the legality of paying a fee to a third party private company to avoid the justice system is stated. As for the courses themselves, attendees aren't allowed to be negative during the course or they fail and get the 3 points anyway. A 'small profit' is multiplied by 1.3 million. It may well take a judicial review to resolve matters.
Paul Biggs, Tamworth

Agree (8) | Disagree (14)

In response to Paul - such courses are offered to low rate offenders and not forced upon anyone. The money side is broadly the same as the fine and the cash side of things is neutral (albeit the provider will take a small profit margin for their services).

DfT tracks such courses and as far as I know the results are positive (in that those that attend will go on to offend less than those who do not attend).

A couple of hours education is a good idea in my book as most people do not deliberately put themselves or others at risk, they just don't "see/perceive" the risk of their actions (whether that be minor speeding. red light running or mobile phone use).

And yes a few more police would be nice but in the UK we rely on consent of the majority. That is why over 90% wear seat belts even though the risk of being caught is low - people "get it". In the future (perhaps with more courses for offenders) more people will "get it" for the mobile phone risks.
Pete, Liverpool

Agree (19) | Disagree (6)

Perhaps its time to fine persons dependant upon income. The fine increased to say £150 will have no effect in an age of credit spread out over say a year and many drivers will totally disregard and dismiss it. If a maximum fine was to be generally imposed as a deterrent and that was made £1000 then drivers or their employers (made responsible for the actions of their driver) may well consider the risk of being caught as too great.

Duncan - maybe some motorists use phones in circumstances where they may still be able to maintain a degree of visibility, control and safety. Possibly with plenty of room in front of them enabling them to have safe forward vision should something untoward occur or the vehicle in front brake sharply. Or maybe they are just lucky. After all, not every drunk driver is involved in an collision are they?
Bob Craven Lancs...Space is Safer Campaigner

Agree (7) | Disagree (4)

As I understand it contributory factors are based on evidence available at the scene at the time of the accident. For fatal accidents the police would gather additional evidence for the coroner and it may be established later that use of a phone was material to the accident but this would not be back filled to the contributory factor data published by DfT.

The DfT have published additional information arising from coroners courts for drink drive fatalities and they may do the same for mobile phones and I have missed it.
Steven Cross Leicestershire

Agree (16) | Disagree (1)

According to the published DfT statistics 1,775 people were killed in road accidents in 2014. Of that number 21 were killed in accidents where mobile phone use was cited as a contributory factor. By my maths that represents just 1.183% of the total. With mobile phone use behind the wheel now widespread I would have expected that number to be much higher. Perhaps somebody could explain why it is as low as it is?
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (9) | Disagree (12)

Nothing in there about increasing or restoring traffic police numbers to actually detect offences. Also, mobile phone use at the wheel has varying degrees of distraction, the worst being trying to write and send a text or email. I'm not in favour of educational courses provided by a third party private company and I'm not convinced that diverting drivers from the judicial system, for payment, onto such courses are actually legal. Commit the offence, then accept the punishment. Courses for drink driving offenders are different, as a fine and ban are still imposed.
Paul Biggs, Tamworth

Agree (21) | Disagree (13)

This is a step in the right direction but fails to acknowledge or address the issues associated with using 'hands free' mobile phones. The distraction associated with 'hands free' phone use is a bigger issue than the task of holding the phone and it is this aspect that really needs to be addressed.
Tim Draper - Leeds

Agree (15) | Disagree (9)