Cultural change and better education are needed as tougher penalties for using mobile phones at the wheel come into force, a leading law firm has warned.
Lawyers at Blake Morgan have welcomed the stricter laws, which double the previous sanctions and will mean motorists using a phone while driving will now receive six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
But they said the new penalties must be accompanied by better education for motorists.
It comes as figures point towards an alarming lack of awareness of the dangers among many drivers, with a national week-long crackdown last November catching almost 8,000 drivers making calls or texting at the wheel.
Figures from the Department for Transport reveal that mobile phone misuse was found to be a contributory factor in 440 accidents of which 75 were categorised as serious and 22 as involving fatalities.
Tim Williamson, a criminal and regulatory lawyer for Blake Morgan, said: “The message is plainly not getting through to motorists and we believe that a cultural change is required as happened with drink driving.
“In our view a holistic approach should be followed, with any tough new penalties accompanied by better education for motorists.
“We would like to see a concerted national campaign, in the vein of anti drink driving, that focusses on educating drivers about the very real dangers of using a mobile phone at the wheel.”
Barry Culshaw, a Blake Morgan solicitor who specialises in road transport law and represents drivers facing proceedings, said: “I am fully supportive of this legislation which is long overdue.
“I am a road traffic specialist and my court advocacy commitments involve casework throughout the UK. I drive over 25,000 miles per annum and I see motorists on virtually a daily basis contravening this legislation.
“I have seen some drivers so impaired by mobile phone misuse that they pose a menace to other road users giving all the danger signs of a drunk driver.
“If mobile phone misuse is not dealt with under the fixed penalty procedures courts can disqualify for such offences and if committed in a HGV or a PCV the maximum fine is £2,500 instead of £1,000.”
Barry also cited a study by the Transport Research Laboratory which found that using a hands-free mobile while driving can, in some cases, be more dangerous than drink driving.
Barry added: “The best place for the mobile is where I keep it when driving – in the boot.
“If a call has to be made or received motorists should park up and switch the engine off, thereby scotching any suggestion that they might still be driving.”
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