Mobile phone driver danger revealed

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THOUSANDS of motorists are still putting lives at risk by phoning at the wheel.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request revealed that more than 2,350 drivers in Wigan have been issued with a fixed penalty notice in the last three years after being caught either texting or phoning while their vehicle is in motion.

Traffic officers have dished out £141,360 in fines and a total of 7,068 
penalty points have been distributed to people who think they may be able to flout the law.

In a recent crackdown on bad driving in Wigan, traffic officers found no fewer than 150 motorists committing offences - including phoning while driving - in the space of one day.

Chief Insp Mark Dexter said: “Using mobile phones while driving increases the risk of collision and is shown to contribute to the number of people killed and seriously injured on the roads in the UK.

“Greater Manchester Police has campaigned to raise the awareness of drivers about the risks of driving while using a mobile, but clearly these figures demonstrate that a significant number of people are still prepared to risk the lives of themselves and others.

“We would encourage people not to use their mobiles at all while driving but, where unavoidable, encourage the use of the numerous hands free devices that are available at relatively low cost.”

Karen Delaney, Greater Manchester Casualty Reduction Partnership said: “You’re reaction times when using a phone are around 50 per cent slower than normal driving.

“Drivers have no excuse for using handheld mobile phones at the wheel-there have been enough warnings since the introduction of this law in 2007. Missing a call won’t kill anyone, but a collision may.

“The safest option is for people to switch phones off before driving. It is not worth risking your life and that of others.”

The huge number of fixed penalty notices, which see drivers hit with a £60 fine, comes despite a series of warnings and crackdowns since driving and phoning was made illegal in 2003.

It is against the law to text, call or use a mobile at all while behind the wheel of a vehicle, even if it is stationary.

Franki Hackett, campaigns and media officer for the road charity, Brake said: “Clearly the message is not getting through that driving while using a mobile phone is incredibly dangerous.

“The distraction of the call, hands free or hand-held, slows reaction times as much as being over the drink-drive limit.

“So we ask everyone to commit to switch their phones off when driving to help prevent needless tragedies.

“We’re also calling on the government to increase the penalty to at least £500 to provide a serious deterrent and emphasise the seriousness of the crime.

“And we’re urging government to ban hands-free phone-use while driving, as it is just as dangerous as hand-held calling.”

During the recent traffic day of action, police and council road safety officers stopped and spoke to drivers using mobile phones at the wheel and not wearing seat belts.

A choice was given to those caught: either pay the fine or report to the fire station to be shown an educational video of the potential consequences of dangerous driving.

The majority of those caught were not wearing seatbelts.

Coun Kevin Anderson, cabinet lead for environment, said: “It takes less than a second for a road collision to occur and wearing a seatbelt could mean the difference between life and death.

“Police and fire chiefs tell me that they hate attending crash scenes where people have been needlessly killed or seriously injured.

“It’s dreadful to have to explain to families that their loved ones would be alive today if they had simply worn their seat belt or hadn’t been using their hand-held phone when driving.”

There were 16 endorsable fixed penalties, mainly for mobile phone use and for other non-endorsable offences, including no MOT or illegal plates.

The law states that if a seat belt is available, it must be worn. Since 2003 it has been an offence to use a hand held phone when driving. The penalty for both is £60. And if convicted it is significantly higher.