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Holding phone at wheel may be offence under new laws

By Claire O'Boyle

Drivers could face tougher laws on mobile phone use in future - and even holding a device behind the wheel could be outlawed.

The Government is also seeking the public's views on ramping up existing penalties, including doubling the number of penalty points imposed and more than tripling the £60 fine on those caught driving while on the phone.

Changes could also be introduced that would make it illegal to hold a phone while driving.

Despite the current laws, illegal use of mobile phones is an ongoing problem, with a total of 5,006 mobile phone offences detected by the PSNI in 2016.

A further 4,695 were detected between December 1, 2016, and November 30, 2017.

In the five years before that, police caught more than 41,000 offenders.

It was announced in 2016 that drivers caught using mobile phones in Great Britain would be hit with double fines and points.

Donald Starritt from the Department for Infrastructure's Safe and Sustainable Travel Division is encouraging people to respond to the public consultation which launched yesterday.

He said: "This consultation, agreed by the previous Infrastructure Minister, is an opportunity to express views on proposals to strengthen deterrents against using or holding a mobile phone while driving, including increasing the fixed penalty from £60 to £200 and increasing penalty points from three to six.

"Many of you will have already seen the Department's latest advertising campaign, Interview Shame, which highlights the devastating consequences caused by using a mobile phone while driving.

"Hand-held mobile phones are distracting, yet some drivers continue to ignore the dangers and flout the law. Creating a safe community is a key aspect of the draft Programme for Government and this consultation is about making our roads safer for everyone.

"The Department continues to work with our road safety partners in the PSNI to keep all road users as safe as possible."

Chief Inspector Diane Pennington of PSNI Roads Policing said: "Police investigations and observations confirm that driving distraction and a decrease in driving standards caused by phones and other electronic devices is on the rise.

"Most drivers understand they shouldn't be using their phones when driving and know it's wrong, but still we see it occurring every day on our roads.

"We believe it's time to look at measures to dissuade and deter this behaviour, coupled with potential changes to make it easier to enforce the law.

"With this in mind we encourage everyone to consider what ideas or views they can contribute to the consultation."

The consultation, which launched yesterday and will run until May 15, will consider whether the current offence as set out in law, and penalties, are enough of a deterrent, and will also look at proposals to make it illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving.

Responses can be made at:

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