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How your mobile phone can drive up your insurance rates

woman on phone

Driving while talking on a mobile phone has been an offence since 2003, with the Department for Transport claiming calls can be distracting.

The government body adds that police officers who see a vehicle being driven erratically and find the person behind the wheel talking on a handset will prosecute them for not having full control of the automobile.

It seems this is for a good reason, as according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents those who operate a car while using a mobile phone, be it hand-held or hands-free, are much less aware of what is happening on the road around them.

In addition they fail to see road signs, maintain proper lane positions and steady speeds, in addition to being more likely to tailgate the vehicle in front of them and taking longer to stop.

As a result of this body of evidence, car insurance companies will make motorists caught breaching the law in this way pay more for their cover, as several providers have announced they are set to take this course of action, according to the Daily Mail.

Several firms now require prospective clients to reveal whether they have a conviction of this nature on their record and if they have, the providers will take this into account when calculating the cost of cover.

The news provider claims the action has been taken by the insurance companies in response to an increase in penalties for those caught, which were introduced in February this year.

Under new laws, offenders will pay a fine of £60 as opposed to the previous punishment of £30, while drivers will also incur three points on their licenses.

Despite it being illegal to drive while talking on a mobile phone, figures from the Ministry of Justice from 2006 reveal nearly 500 motorists were fined every day, totalling more than 168,000, the Mail claims.

This statistic is 29 per cent higher than the 129,700 cases in 2005, the news provider said, before adding the government believes 300,000 drivers continue to breach the law in this way every day.

While the use of hand-held devices is prohibited behind the wheel, hands-free technology is allowed, which RoSPA believes is an issue that needs to be addressed by the authorities.

The organisation pointed out the existing law requires motorists to be in proper control of their vehicle or careless driving legislation can be applied by the police, something that could lead to a fine and three points and an increase in car insurance premiums.

Meanwhile, the penalties imposed on those who kill while avoidably distracted have recently been modified by the authorities as a further deterrent against driving while on a mobile.

New legislation, which came into force on August 18th, will allow courts to imprison those who cause the death of another through not paying sufficient attention to the road.

Under the law, one of the instances which falls under the category of avoidable distractions is the use of a mobile phone to call or text someone.

As well as increased car insurance costs, offenders convicted of causing death by dangerous driving could face a custodial sentence of up to five years.

Maria Eagle, the justice minister, said the time has come to punish those who flout road safety rules.

"Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine … driving requires full concentration at all times. A moment's distraction can make the difference between life and death," she stated.

According to research carried out by YouGov and headset manufacturer Plantronics, 40 per cent of people face the prospect of incurring a £60 fine, three penalty points on their licence, increased car insurance costs as well as an increased chance of causing death through careless driving.

The study carried out by the two organisations revealed this percentage of people who use mobile phones while driving do so illegally by not using hands-free technology.

One such person who was caught for breaking the law in this way was 54-year-old Ipswich resident Gillian Meadows.

The Ipswich Evening Star reports the lady was seen by police talking on a phone and subsequently stopped.

She pleaded guilty to a charge of driving while talking on a phone and as a result was disqualified for six months. Under the laws introduced in February, coupled with the new stance adopted by providers, Ms Meadows may also see increased car insurance costs, in addition to a £60 fine.

A spokesman for RoSPA told the news provider many people seem oblivious to the fact they put other people's lives at risk through such actions and urged motorists to avoid talking or texting while driving.

"Research has shown that whether you are using a hand-held or hands-free phone, you are four times more likely to crash. The advice is when you get into your car, switch off your phone and keep it off until you park safely," the representative said.

The Evening Star reports Ms Meadows could not be given a fixed-penalty notice as she already had eight points on her licence.

Meanwhile, a recent clampdown in Scotland could have seen nearly 50 motorists incur increased premium costs after an initiative by Dumfries and Galloway police.

Over a week-long period, the authorities penalised 48 drivers who were using their phones while behind the wheel. Around 30 of those caught were making work-related calls, while 23 were operating large goods vehicles.

PC Andrew Stevenson said the members of his force will continue to crackdown on those who flout the law, meaning people in the area could see the cost of their car insurance rise as a result of them being caught.

It seems many do not think they will be found out for phone use. A survey carried out earlier in the year by headset provider Jabra asking motorists who drive while talking on the phone why they do so found a quarter felt they were unlikely to get caught, while 24 per cent stated they could not miss a call, intomobile.com reports.

Meanwhile, 12 per cent of respondents claimed to have known someone caught by the police and three per cent admitted they themselves had been seen by the authorities.

As evidence suggests motorists are not as alert when speaking on their mobile phones, law makers and car insurance providers have reflected this by increasing the penalties imposed on those who do so.

Should people wish to save money in the current economic climate, one step they could take in order to keep their insurance costs down would be to turn off the phone before switching on the engine.

24 Oct 2008

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