DRIVERS caught using their mobile phone behind the wheel in Essex will no longer be offered educational courses instead of penalty points.
As of today drivers detected committing the offence for the first time will automatically receive three penalty points on their driving licence and a £100 fine.
Essex Police has made the decision to stop offering driver awareness courses following a proposal by the Department for Transport to scrap them in an effort to change driver behaviour.
In 2014, Essex Police officers detected a total of 5094 offences of using a mobile phone behind the wheel. This figure increased to 5702 in 2015. So far this year, 4265 offences have been detected.
Until today those drivers were given the option of receiving a £100 fixed penalty fine and three points on their licence or attending a national educational course at a cost of £100.
Under the changes, they will no longer be offered the course and will automatically receive the fine and points.
In 2017, the punishment will be doubled to six penalty points and a £200 fine.
The changes follow a national consultation by the Department for Transport and the imprisonment of a lorry driver last week convicted of causing the deaths of a mother and three children in a crash on the A34 in Berkshire.
The driver was jailed for 10 years after footage showed him scrolling through music on his mobile phone as he ploughed into the family’s stationary car in August 2016.
Adam Pipe, Casualty Reduction Manager at Essex Police, said: “We welcome the changes proposed by the Department for Transport and the results of the consultation which recognise the need to change driver behaviour.
“Working with our partners, including the Safer Essex Roads Partnership, we run weekly road safety operations throughout the county and I am always disappointed by the number of drivers who refuse to take notice of the law and continue to use their mobile phones behind the wheel.
“Using any mobile phone when driving is dangerous. Mobile phones, hand held or otherwise, divert your attention away from the road and slow driver reaction times. Hazards on the roads can emerge very quickly and just a split-second lapse in concentration can result in a crash, serious injury or worse.
“The tragic events in Berkshire in August have highlighted the dangers of mobile phone use and I can only hope these changes will see the dawn of a new era where drivers begin to take more responsibility for their actions and those of their friends and relatives.
“There is no excuse for poor driving.”