News that Stormont minister Nicola Mallon intends to introduce tougher penalties for motorists who use mobile phones while driving is to be welcomed. The current penalty for such an offence is a £60 fine and three points on a licence, but Ms Mallon’s new proposals will see a substantial increase to a fine of £200 along with six points.
This will bring the penalties into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and it is not before time. The absence of a functioning Stormont meant that it was not possible to introduce the necessary legislation here to increase the penalties. Most people now seem transfixed with their devices, whether they are out walking, dining in a restaurant or taking part in important meetings. Their greatest crime is rudeness and a breach of social etiquette.
However, it is a much more serious matter when the phone users are at the wheel of a car or lorry. Which one of us has not spotted a fellow-driver with a mobile clasped to their ear, or glancing down at the phone on their lap?
It beggars belief how some people believe that they can get away with this. Nothing should be more important than ensuring your safety and that of others. Despite this, the latest PSNI statistics reveal that 3,718 drivers were recorded using a phone at the wheel in the 12 months to the end of last November — that is 10 a day on average.
Last month a Department for Infrastructure report showed that more than half of drivers used their phone at the wheel, one in eight admitted texting while driving, and this newspaper revealed last month that almost 15,000 motorists were caught using a mobile phone over a three-year period.
It is truly shocking that so many drivers persist in breaking the law, even when the risks are well-known. Despite a wide advertising campaign outlining the dangers and heartbreak involved in such accidents, some drivers continue to flout the law.
In an attempt to justify such dangerous anti-social behaviour, people say lamely: “My whole life is on the phone.”
How tragic then that these people continue to selfishly use their phones while driving even though it means they could lose their own life or take the lives of others.
Such behaviour should be penalised severely to help create a deterrent. Lives and limbs are much more important than risking a phone call or text while driving.