ROAD safety experts reacted with surprise after a charge of using a mobile phone while driving was dropped against Harriet Harman.
Labour's deputy leader pleaded guilty yesterday to driving her Rover 75 without due care and attention after she bumped a parked car in south-east London last July.
She was fined 350 and handed three penalty points by a judge at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court.
A second charge of driving while using a mobile phone, which is punishable by a fine of up to 1,000 and three penalty points, was withdrawn.
Campaigners said an opportunity to send a tougher message to motorists about the dangers of mobile phone use had been missed.
Cathy Keeler, deputy chief executive of Brake, said she was surprised the Cabinet minister did not receive a tougher penalty.
She said: "What seems strange is she has been given just three points for driving without due care and attention.
"This is a more serious charge than driving with a mobile phone and carries up to nine penalty points, compared to an automatic three for mobile phone use.
"If she has been found guilty of a more serious offence, which has included using a mobile phone, you would have expected her to get a higher penalty."
James Gibson, of Road Safety GB, said using a phone while behind the wheel could be fatal.
He said: "Using a mobile phone to talk or text whilst driving is dangerous and irresponsible – and the result of driving while distracted can be fatal.
"Drivers can be prosecuted for using even a hands-free kit if they are not in proper control of their vehicle. Research shows that if you use your mobile phone while you drive, you are four times more likely to be involved in a crash."
The court heard Ms Harman had been speaking into her phone as she started the engine of her car and attempted to manoeuvre out from between two parked cars.
She bumped into the car behind her, causing no damage, but its owner witnessed the incident from his flat and called police.
Michael Jennings, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said by pleading guilty to driving without due care and attention, Ms Harman had also admitted using her phone. "In accepting Ms Harman's guilty plea, the CPS was satisfied that the court would have enough sentencing power to impose a penalty which could reflect her total offending," he said.
Driving without due care and attention can be punished by disqualification, up to nine penalty points and a fine of up to 5,000.
Driving while using a hand-held phone could mean disqualification, a compulsory three points and a fine of up to 1,000.