Police in England and Wales are cracking down on mobile phone use among drivers this week, the second such nationwide operation this year after 2,323 offences were spotted in a similar campaign in May.
A person is four times more likely to crash while using a mobile phone at the wheel, making it roughly as dangerous as drink driving, and yet in a 2016 RAC report 31 per cent of motorists admitting to using a phone at the wheel, an increase of four per cent since 2014. Last year the government announced it would double fines and points for using a mobile phone while driving.
While campaigners welcome the focus on mobile phone use they say more must be done year-round to tackle poor driving. A sharp fall in the number of drivers fined for mobile phone use was revealed last month as stretched police forces allocate fewer officers to road traffic offences.
National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, said: "Forces are coming together this week with innovative approaches to catching those driving when distracted and campaign to make drivers think twice about using their mobiles at the wheel.
"Tackling mobile phone use by drivers requires police enforcement using new technology and tactics to maximise the numbers of people we can stop, combined with strong effective penalties and creative national campaigns to make driving distracted as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
"When you're getting in your car, remember don't put others at risk - keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel."
Operation tactics include dedicated patrols in unmarked vans, and using helmet cams to catch offenders; combined shifts with paramedics to educate people of the risks of using a phone at the wheel; use of message signs on commuter routes saying “leave your phone alone”; pilot schemes with community spotters to target repeat offenders and the use of social media videos and messages.
Last year the Department for Transport announced it would double fines and points for driving while using a mobile phone. From 2017 offenders will face a £200 fine and six licence points, while those whose licences are less than two years old will be disqualified.
— Essex Police (@EssexPoliceUK) November 14, 2016
Sam Jones, Cycling UK’s Campaigns and Communications Coordinator, said: “People should know driving with a mobile phone is dangerous and illegal. It is as bad as or worse than being over the drink driving limit. Public awareness campaigns like this one are making people aware of what the risks are, and that they could face fines, or points on their licences.
“The reason people do it is they don’t think they will be caught. We hope people will be afraid of being caught and will stop doing this incredibly dangerous activity.”
Jones said the issue appears to be rising up the political agenda after last week, at a trade delegation to India, Prime Minister, Theresa May, said mobile phone use at the wheel should be “as socially unacceptable as drink driving”.
While Jones welcomed the crackdown he said more specially trained officers are needed on the streets looking out for and tackling dangerous driving year-round.
The West Midlands Police pointed people to a blog about the dangers of using a mobile phone at the wheel.
— CMPG - Road Policing (@Trafficwmp) November 14, 2016
Meanwhile, in Miami, one artist has turned a crushed car into a smiley emoji
In Miami, artist Rudolf Kohn transformed a wrecked car
into an emoji to make a powerful statement against texting and driving pic.twitter.com/ws5mLvFZEW
— michael jacobs (@michaeljaco) November 7, 2016