Under new rules expected to come into force next year, drivers using a phone behind the wheel will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fine – double the current penalties – while newly-qualified drivers could be made to retake their test.
But Darrell Martin, whose brother Lee, a dad of two, died after he was hit by a white Transit van driven by Alton man Christopher Gard during a time trial event on the A31 near Bentley in August last year, said the proposals do not go far enough.
“For the majority of people it will just be another expensive [bit] of motoring, it’s not really a deterrent is it?” Mr Martin told BBC Radio 5 Live last week.
“Six points isn’t the same as the immediate ban with drink driving. If you can’t live by a few rules that are not going to make you into a killer, then can you not drive please, because it’s not much to ask.
“Just put your phone down... the text message that killed my brother, the bloke was writing about he was going home to meet his mate and take his dog for a walk. That’s the end of my brother’s life... it’s pointless, absolutely pointless.”
Gard was jailed for nine years and disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half years earlier this month after admitting causing the death of Lee Martin by dangerous driving.
It was found during the one-day trial at Winchester Crown Court that Gard, whose son was with him in the van at the time of the crash, had read a text just eight seconds before hitting Mr Martin’s bike at 65mph.
However, the court also heard that the 30-year-old had at least six previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel, and following his trial the victim’s family slammed magistrates for failing to disqualify Gard from driving sooner.
“The great tragedy about Lee’s death is that it was totally avoidable,” the family said in a statement.
“Only six weeks before Lee’s death he was in front of magistrates pleading hardship if he lost his driving licence. He was, once again, being convicted of using his phone while driving and should have been losing his licence due to having too many points.
“Each previous conviction on his licence had been for using his phone while driving. The magistrates chose to allow the defendant to keep his licence. The result of this lenient approach to such a serious offence was the death of Lee Martin only six weeks later.”
Mr Martin continued: “While Lee’s death is clearly the fault of the defendant, we feel that the legal system is somewhat to blame. The leniency shown in this case on the defendant, and the lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone while driving, has resulted in Lee Martin’s death. While this carries on, there will be more families in this tragic situation.
“Lee Martin was merely cycling along the road when someone drove into him while writing text messages. The law needs to be changed, and sentencing for these offences needs to changed, to help prevent it happening to someone else’s family.”
Just this week, research by the RAC revealed that an estimated 11 million motorists – 31 per cent of all those on Britain’s roads – admit to having used a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
Department for Transport figures show that a driver impaired or distracted by their phone was a contributory factor in 492 accidents in Britain in 2014, including 21 that were fatal and 84 classed as serious.
Rob Heard, road safety sergeant for Hampshire, added following Gard’s trial: “The majority of people know they should not be using their phone while driving but appear not to understand what a huge distraction it is and what a risk they are taking.
“This terrible collision just shows the consequences of using your phone while driving and how it can ruin lives. It is a totally unacceptable risk to take. Gard had been given many opportunities to change his ways and still took the risk, causing a totally innocent person to lose their life.
“Having a mobile phone with you while driving can cause you to be tempted to look at it or use it. My advice is to turn your phone off while driving and put it out of reach and view. This way you will not be tempted to look at it and become distracted. It’s not worth the risk.”