Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe calls for tougher action on drivers who use their mobile phone at the wheel

UK's top police officer worried by London's first road-deaths increase in 20 years

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The Independent Online

Britain's most senior police officer has backed higher penalties for drivers who use their mobile phone at the wheel.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said the only way to curb the still high numbers of people phoning whilst driving is to take a tougher line.

He said the penalty- which currently stands at three points on a license- should be hiked to six. That would mean motorists would be banned from driving if caught twice in three years, and inexperienced drivers would have to retake their test if caught once within two years of getting their licence.

The commissioner spoke out after figures revealed road deaths and casualties in the capital have increased for the first time in 20 years.

He said: "I have to say I have still got an issue around mobile phone usage myself. I think it is still very high when people are driving. If I was able tomorrow, I would say you get six points for driving while using a phone.

"The problem at the moment is we are dishing out lots of tickets- somebody gets three points and they have got another three chances.

"I would say you have got two chances. You have had a mobile phone infraction and if you do it again you lose your licence."

Edmund King, of the AA, appeared to back the call, saying using a mobile behind the wheel does not have the "social stigma" of driving drunk or without a seat belt. He said: "There is a case for having a stronger deterrent like six penalty points.

"This would have a particular impact on young people who would lose their licences immediately. If the penalty was increased there must be a concerted police campaign to show people there is a strong likelihood they will get caught."

But Kevin Clinton, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said there should be "more consistent enforcement" of the existing law. He said: "If drivers know there is a good chance of getting caught if they use their phone while driving, they are less likely to risk doing so.

"Increasing the points for this offence would be inconsistent with other motoring offences, but it is very likely that the fine for a range of fixed penalty motoring offences will be increased, from £60 to £90."

Motorists can use a hands-free kit as long as they do not hold the phone. But studies have found that even speaking on a hands-free kit impairs driving ability. Some scientists argue the increased demands on the brain involved in holding a conversation on a phone – whether hand-held or hands-free – is the real danger while driving, not handling of the device.

The Government said it would increase the financial penalty for using a mobile phone behind the wheel from £60 to either £80 or £100 last year but has yet to do so.