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Tougher penalties have come into force for motorists caught using their mobile phone while driving.

Do you find yourself checking a text message, answering a phone call or checking an email on your daily commute? From 1st March 2017 the government will be cracking down on those who interact with a mobile phone or similar device behind the wheel, with the penalties doubling.

A concerning 48% of motorists admit to using a phone at the wheel, with a large majority believing that they are likely to 'get away with it'. This is shocking revelation considering that it is illegal to use to do so whilst driving. Currently, the law states that if you are found using a mobile phone you will receive a £100 fine and 3 penalty points. As of 1st March 2017, the increased penalty is very straightforward - a £200 fixed fine and 6 penalty points will be issued.

In addition, the option of attending a driver awareness course as an alternative to receiving penalty points will no longer be offered. If you have held your licence for less than two years or hold a provisional driving licence, being caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel will result in the loss of your licence in addition to having to retake your theory and practical driving test.

According to the government, these changes have come into effect with the aim of deterring motorists from acting irresponsibly and to reduce the shocking statistics highlighted by the recent RAC survey, which pointed to the high percentage of motorists who use their phone behind the wheel to answer calls, take photos and browse social media. Despite this, 79% of drivers believe that taking a quick call is unacceptable and the number of motorists concerned about other drivers using their phones has also increased. With the changing attitudes and increased penalties, the government hopes that the causalities related to this offence will decrease as a result.

The changing legislation is also supported by the latest AA campaign, launching to change perceptions of text driving by reminding drivers of the dangers and informing them that text driving is just as dangerous and as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

When can't I use my phone?

You will be liable to face hefty consequences, regardless of what you are doing with it, this includes;

- Reading a text message
- Answering a phone call
- Replying to an email
- Taking a photo/video
- Interacting with the Sat Nav/Map system


So when is it legal to use my phone?

The law states that the only circumstance where you can use your mobile while driving is when making a 999/111 call in an emergency or when it is unsafe or unpractical to stop. Apart from this exception, the only other time when you can use your mobile phone whilst in the driver's seat is when you are parked in a safe and convenient location with the engine switched off. This means using it while stopped in traffic is also no permitted.

Using your mobile phone can seriously impact your concentration, which in turn effects your driving ability. AA Charitable Trust has identified that since 2011, causalities caused by mobile phones has increased by 24%.

Save yourself 6 points and £200 - put your phone away.