Texting while driving to be punished with jail time

Texting while driving

Drivers who continue to user their mobile phones while driving, particularly to send text messages face tougher penalties including long prison sentences if their disregard for the road causes an accident.

The clamp-down on the use of distracting technology such as sending a text message, tuning the car radio or speaking on a handheld mobile phone is part of new careless driving laws which came into force today and goes over and above reforms announced in January 2007.

"Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine," Justice Minister Maria Eagle said in a statement. "A moment's distraction can make the difference between life and death."

Courts will also have greater powers to punish motorists who are disqualified or have no insurance or licence.

The new offences will carry prison terms of up to five years for causing death by careless driving and up to two years for causing death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured.

Under the old laws, the maximum penalty for these offences was a 5,000 fine and penalty points on the offender's driving licence.

If a court rules that a motorist was guilty of a "gross avoidable distraction", they could be charged with the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving. That carries a jail term of between two and 14 years.

Sentencing guidelines suggest that "reading or composing text messages over a period of time" would be seen as a gross distraction.

A brief loss of concentration while reading a map, adjusting controls or glancing at a text message would be an "ordinary distraction" that would lead to charges of careless rather than dangerous driving.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) welcomed the change in the law.

"Allowing distractions to affect your standard of driving is not acceptable and will now be more appropriately punished under the law," said Deputy Chief Constable Mick Giannasi, ACPO's spokesman on roads and policing.

Details of the law change contained in the Road Safety Act 2006 can be found here.


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