Driven to distraction.
Driving has changed a lot over the last 20 years. In 1990 the biggest distraction a driver might face behind the wheel would be turning over their Phil Collins cassette or opening the window because they didn’t have air conditioning. Nowadays we have mobile phone calls and texts, ipods, sat navs, CD multi-changers and internet capable smart phones, all providing opportunities for us to be distracted from the job at hand, namely driving the car.
A recent survey by the RAC showed that 39% of drivers surveyed admitted to becoming seriously distracted whilst driving, while young drivers (aged 17 to 24) were the most likely to lose concentration with 55% admitting to being seriously distracted. In the same survey, 20% of young drivers said they drive whilst listening to music through headphones, 26% admitted to texting and 16% said they had put on make-up whilst behind the wheel.
All of this has become a cause for concern because of the increased likelihood of distracted drivers being involved in road accidents. Government figures show that the number of fatal accidents on roads in the UK, where distraction was a ‘contributory factor’, increased 50% between 2005 and 2007.
Most of us are aware that new laws have been introduced to deal with mobile phone usage behind the wheel, but it appears that many of us are still unclear about what we can and can’t do. So where does the current law stand on this and other related driving offences?
Here, David Staniforth, partner at Norrie Waite & Slater solicitors in Sheffield, explains the law and possible penalties if convicted of this type of driving offence.
Driving whilst using a mobile phone
The penalties for mobile phone offences have been increased recently to try and get across how seriously the law now considers them. There are 3 types of offence which relate to driving on a road whilst using a hand held mobile telephone or a specified hand held device. They are:
- Use of a hand held telephone by the driver of a vehicle
- Causing or permitting the use by the driver
- Supervising a provisional licence holder while using a telephone
The use of a mobile phone includes texting as well as making phone calls.
If the Police suspect you to be using a hand held phone whilst driving, for instance due to witnessing poor driving, they could take you to Court and get hold of your mobile phone records to match up the time of the alleged offence with the calls on your records.
The penalty, if convicted, is 3 penalty points and a fine of up to £1,000 for car drivers or up to £2,500 for HGV and passenger vehicle drivers.
In addition to this you may face disqualification if you already have 9 or more points on your licence, under what is know as ‘totting up’ of penalty points.
If you are involved in an accident as a result of using a mobile phone whilst driving, you may face a more serious charge such as careless driving or dangerous driving.
Careless driving / Driving without due care and attention
Although the law does not set out exactly what constitutes driving without due care and attention, a typical example of what may be considered to be careless driving is not paying enough attention to the road because you were distracted by changing a CD, or some similar activity. This means that the Police have a broad scope to charge you with this offence for any activity which is causing the standard of your driving to have fallen below the standard which would be expected of a reasonable and careful driver.
Driving without due care and attention is a less serious offence than dangerous driving, but can still carry a penalty of a fine plus between a 3 and 9 point licence endorsement or disqualification for a fixed period.
Charges of careless driving are often brought following an accident where the police have attended at some stage.
Dangerous driving is a much more serious offence than careless driving. It is defined as when the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
Dangerous driving can include things such as a consistent lack of attention to the road, which may be through use of a mobile phone or some other distraction whilst driving the vehicle.
The penalty, if convicted, can be between 3 and 11 penalty points and an automatic disqualification for a minimum of 12 months. In addition to this you may be sentenced to prison for up to 2 years. Once convicted you also have to take an extended re-test before you are allowed to drive again.
Other factors which will be taken into account and treated by the Courts as being aggravating factors include previous driving convictions, failure to stop for Police and ‘showing off’.
Additional offences also exist where death has been caused by either careless or dangerous driving, and the penalties for these are more severe.
Clearly, the law looks upon these offences very seriously, and the effects of a potential driving disqualification can be huge, including the inability to continue your current employment and the negative impact that not being allowed to drive can have on your family life.
If you find yourself charged with any of these offences, a solicitor experienced in dealing with motoring offences will be able to help you to put together a defence, including showing any mitigating factors, if they exist.
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