More than a third of skilled drivers in the UK would back the police confiscating a motorist’s mobile phone if caught using it illegally while driving, according to recent research unveiled by IAM RoadSmart, the nation’s premier road safety charity.

A survey conducted in February 2024 among 2,437 IAM RoadSmart members revealed that 34% of respondents support the notion of temporary confiscation of mobile phones by law enforcement. Among them, 27% advocated for offenders to pay a fee to retrieve their devices, serving as an additional penalty alongside the existing £200 fine and penalty points. Another 7% agreed with confiscation but without the requirement of paying for its return. However, a slight majority, accounting for 56%, remained unconvinced about the appropriateness of phone confiscation.

Regarding the current penalty of a £200 fine and six points on the licence for illegal phone use while driving, opinions were divided. While 51% considered it adequate, 42% deemed it too lenient. Only 4% regarded the existing punishment as too severe. Respondents who felt the penalty was too lenient proposed alternatives, with the most favoured option being an immediate six-month driving ban and an unlimited fine, backed by 34% of those surveyed. Following closely was the suggestion of a £1,000 fine and six licence points, supported by 20%.

These findings accompany another survey, encompassing both IAM RoadSmart members and non-members, indicating that nearly two-thirds of drivers (62%) perceive driver distraction, such as texting or conversing on the phone while driving, as a more significant issue compared to three years ago. Moreover, a significant majority (80%) perceive others’ illegal phone use while driving as a threat to their personal safety, with 24% ranking it among their top three concerns for road safety.

In terms of enforcement, data obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA revealed that 34,738 drivers received a CU80 endorsement on their licence in 2022 for illegal mobile phone use while driving. Particularly concerning was the fact that drivers aged 17-24 comprised a tenth of those receiving endorsements, despite constituting only 7% of all licence holders. Additionally, Home Office data disclosed that 37,900 drivers in England faced penalties, including fixed penalty notices, driver retraining, or court actions for illegal phone use in 2022.

The penalties for using a handheld mobile phone while driving doubled in 2017, escalating to a £200 fine and six points on the licence from the previous £100 fine and three points. New drivers caught within two years of passing their practical test risk having their licence revoked. Following advocacy from the road safety community and several high-profile cases where convictions were overturned, the Government addressed legal ambiguities in March 2022, closing loopholes that allowed some drivers to evade punishment.

In 2023, certain police forces initiated trials for camera technology aimed at detecting phone use while driving. Depending on the severity of the offence, drivers were issued warning letters or notices of intended prosecution following the review of captured evidence.

IAM RoadSmart Director of Policy and Standards Nicholas Lyes said; “Using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel is illegal and dangerous and many drivers want police forces to prioritise enforcement against these offenders. Moreover, the idea of confiscation of phones and paying an additional fine for their return has the backing of a surprisingly sizeable number of drivers.

“While we are never going to see a cop on every corner, camera technology is already being trialled in some parts of the country and could be rolled out nationally subject to Home Office type approval and the final trial findings.

“We have seen the tragic consequences of drivers using their phones at the wheel in high-profile cases such as that on the M66 where a young driver filmed himself travelling at catastrophic speeds resulting in the death of Frankie Jules-Hough and her unborn child.

“The Government should review the fine level alongside type-approving new camera technology to improve detection. These actions should be supported by a renewed high-profile education campaign highlighting the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving and considering the merits of offering more training courses. We also think social media companies have a responsibility to review policies and remove content as soon as possible when drivers post videos of themselves breaking the law.

“Ultimately, we need to break the cycle of phone addiction once drivers get behind the wheel as it is a serious distraction that can have tragic results.”