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U.K. has tough new penalties for drivers caught using a phone behind the wheel

Why it matters to you

The issue of using a phone while driving is a serious one, and authorities on both sides of the pond are cracking down in a bid to eradicate it.

Tough new penalties came into effect in the United Kingdom this week for drivers caught using their phone behind the wheel.

The fixed penalty for using a mobile phone while driving doubled from 100 pounds to 200 pounds (about $245), while the number of penalty points imposed increased to six from three. Pick up 12 points from a range of driving mishaps within a three-year period and you’ll likely to receive a six-month driving ban.

In addition, new drivers caught using their phone behind the wheel within two years of passing their test will lose their license and have to retake it.

The change to the law follows pressure from campaigners after a number of high-profile incidents in recent years where deaths were caused by distracted drivers.

A survey by the U.K.’s Royal Automotive Club last year showed that 31 percent of those polled had used a mobile phone while driving, an increase of 8 percent over two years.

Another study, this one carried out by the Automobile Association (AA), revealed that half of young drivers on Britain’s roads can’t bear to hit the off button on their smartphone before setting out in their car.

Perhaps these new penalties will change that.

Social stigma

The update to the law coincides with a new campaign aimed at making the practice of using the phone while driving as socially unacceptable as drunk driving. A video (above) launched as part of the effort aims to drill the message home that texting while driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving. “You’re twice as likely to crash text driving as you are drunk driving,” a message reads at the end of the video, adding, “You wouldn’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the video as “powerful and thought-provoking and will help deliver the message — using a phone at the wheel is simply unacceptable and can be as dangerous as drink driving.”

Using a phone while driving is also a major issue in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving overall was a factor in almost 3,200 traffic deaths in 2014 and nearly 3,500 in 2015 in the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. Of those fatalities, mobile phones were the distracting element in 476 deaths in 2015, up from 406 in 2014.

A couple of years ago the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety studied driving behavior among teens involved in car accidents. It stuck cameras inside thousands of cars and eventually had enough data to compile a video of incidents caused by distracted driving. You can check it out here.