Northern Ireland

Tougher penalties supported for drivers using mobile phones

Female driver holding a mobile phone to her ear Image copyright PA Media

Toughening the penalties for drivers using mobile phones has been backed by the majority of respondents to a public consultation.

Currently, motorists caught using a hand-held phone while driving face a £60 fine and three penalty points.

A proposal suggests fines should more than treble to £200 while penalty points should double from three to six.

More than 60% of respondents to the Department for Infrastructure consultation supported both moves.

The consultation took place between 6 March 2018 and 15 May 2018, but the department has only now published the findings.

Using a phone while driving is already an offence, but this plan would also outlaw "holding" a phone while driving - a move backed by 86% of those who responded to the consultation.

Some 70% of respondents were in favour of the intention to make it illegal to use a hands-free phone by touching it while it is in the dashboard holder/cradle or attached to the handlebars of a motorbike.

If approved, the proposals would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, where the law was toughened in 2017.

However, the department said the responses will inform the development of proposals "when an infrastructure minister is in post".

Northern Ireland has been without devolution since January 2017 when Sinn Féin collapsed the coalition government in protest at the DUP's handling of a green energy scandal.

'Pervasive use of mobile phones while driving'

On 1 March 2017, a £200 fine and six penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving came into force in England, Scotland and Wales.

The department said the consultation highlighted strong public concern about the use of mobile phones behind the wheel, as well as "clear support" for an increase to the penalties currently in place.

"Overall, there was wide recognition of the importance of enforcement in tackling the pervasive use of mobile phones while driving and, in some cases, it was noted that tougher penalties will only be part of the solution," the department said.

"Support therefore for legislative change to the existing offence was welcomed by the majority of respondents. That said, it was evident that consultees had considered this area carefully and while general support was clear, concerns and suggestions were provided in relation to how this could be best achieved."

The consultation ran alongside a TV advert campaign, which showed police interviewing a young driver who caused the death of two brothers by using his phone seconds before a fatal crash.

There were 337 responses to the consultation - 326 via the online questionnaire and 11 via email or in writing.

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