From 1st March 2017, the number of penalty points to be imposed for mobile phone offences will increase from 3 points to 6 points. It applies to offences committed on or after that date.
Where a fixed penalty offer is made to a driver by a police officer, the amount payable for this offence will now be £200 - otherwise the matter will be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, where the driver may wish to plead ‘Not Guilty’ and contest the allegation at trial. Only in limited circumstances, may there be a benefit in a driver declining a fixed penalty, and instead opt for a ‘Guilty’ plea at court. It should be remembered that the court can instead of imposing points, opt to impose a discretionary driving disqualification.
The change to 6 penalty points will have a significant effect on drivers:
- Firstly, it will make it far easier for a driver to become liable to a “totting-up” disqualification, where the court must impose a minimum driving disqualification of six months, where a driver has accumulated 12 or more penalty points. Such a disqualification is the default position unless the driver can persuade the court that there are special mitigating circumstances why it should not be imposed. When calculating whether or not 12 or more penalty points have been accumulated, the points to be imposed for any new offence are aggregated with the points incurred for offences in the preceding three year offending period.
- Probationary drivers, i.e. those who have passed their driving test less than two years before the date of the offence, will find their driving licences being revoked by DVLA since a new driver is not permitted to accrue 6 or more points within that two year period. They will have to revert to provisional licence holder status, and re-sit and re-acquire their driving licence. In other words it will be ‘one strike and you’re out’ for them.
- Vocational drivers who drive goods and passenger vehicles commercially, will be more susceptible to being called to a driver conduct hearing before a Traffic Commissioner, given the increase in penalty points. Such drivers can already expect to receive a four week suspension for a mobile phone offence committed in a commercial vehicle on the first occasion, rising to longer suspensions for further offences committed in commercial or non-commercial vehicles.
The change in law takes effect through the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Penalty Points) (Amendment) Order 2016. However, it should be borne in mind that not only is there a specific offence of not driving (or supervising the driving) of a motor vehicle while using a handheld mobile phone or other handheld interactive communication device, but any driver can be prosecuted for other offences that involve dangerous or careless driving (including fatalities and incidents causing serious injury), where such devices have been used anyway. This is regarded as an avoidable distraction. The use of a mobile phone or other device in such instances will always be regarded by the courts as an aggravating feature.
It should also be remembered that, even if a mobile phone is being used legally, (e.g. in hands-free mode) it is no defence to a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving, if the driver has been distracted and sub-standard driving conduct occurs.
For further information or discussion, please contact Mike Hayward at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively please contact Nathon Taylor-Allkins email@example.com or Michelle O'Garro MOGarro@woodfines.co.uk Please call 01908 202150.