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On-phone drivers put lives at risk

PUBLISHED: 10:23 19 September 2008 | UPDATED: 10:40 12 July 2010

Increasing numbers of motorists are putting lives at risk on Norfolk and Suffolk roads by using mobile phones while driving.

The claim comes as new research warns using a mobile while driving is more dangerous than being behind the wheel while over the legal alcohol limit.

Increasing numbers of motorists are putting lives at risk on Norfolk and Suffolk roads by using mobile phones while driving.

The claim comes as new research warns using a mobile while driving is more dangerous than being behind the wheel while over the legal alcohol limit.

Police officers in Norfolk have issued 1,467 fixed penalty notices to people caught using their mobiles while driving so far this year, compared to 1,096 from March to December last year - an increase of a third.

In Suffolk, 81 fixed penalty notices have been issued for mobile phone offences since Tuesday after an operation aimed at clamping down on irresponsible drivers was launched this month.

Police issued a new get-tough message as a new study showed texting while driving impaired skills more than being drunk or high on drugs.

Carrying out the first UK research into the effects of texting while driving, the RAC Foundation used a simulator to look at the impact of writing, reading and ignoring text messages on the driving skills of a test group of motorists.

They found:

Reaction times deteriorated by more than a third - worse than alcohol at the legal limit (12pc slower) and driving under the influence of cannabis (21pc slower).

Steering control was 91pc worse, compared to 35pc worse when under the influence of cannabis.

The ability to maintain a safe following distance fell.

Sgt Simon Atherton, of Norfolk police, warned drivers they would not get a second chance before being fined.

He said: “After the penalty was changed from a £30 fine to a £60 fine and three penalty points on the licence, we experienced a dip but, as time has gone on, we are seeing more and more people using their mobile phones while driving again.

“We are being very proactive. People will not be given a verbal warning; they will be issued with a ticket.”

New legislation has recently introduced a charge of causing death by careless driving, which has a lesser burden of proof than causing death by dangerous driving and toughens the penalties for motorists who kill because they were “avoidably distracted”. This could include calling or texting on a mobile phone.

“People think it is okay to use their mobiles while driving because it does not have the same stigma as drink-driving and they think they are better drivers than they are. But research like this shows people should not use mobile phones in cars, including hands- free,” added Sgt Atherton.

Participants in the study were asked to react to a buzzer or a visual cue which would appear on the screen of the simulator.

Writing a text message had the biggest impact on reaction times, increasing them from 1.2 seconds to 1.6 seconds.

At motorway speeds, this would mean travelling an additional three car lengths before beginning to brake. Some participants missed the visual trigger completely.

Having a conversation on a mobile is already established as making drivers four times more likely to crash, whether on hands-free or not.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), in 2006 the number of accidents where mobile phones were considered a distraction in Britain was 345, of which 28 of those resulted in deaths and 57 serious injuries.

But Roger Vincent, Rospa spokesman, said: “This could be the tip of the iceberg as many accidents involving mobile phone use would not be reported.

“The problem is people these days seem to be permanently attached to their mobiles. If they want to reduce the risk of texting or answering a call in the car, they should switch it off when they get into the vehicle in the same way they would automatically put on their seatbelt.”

Mr Vincent said companies could help by incorporating it into their health and safety regulations.

Suffolk police officers, who caught more than 3,000 drivers using mobile phones last year, are carrying out extra enforcement from September to December as part of Operation Nucleus.

Deputy chief constable Jacqui Cheer said: “Many road users may feel that traffic offences are trivial but it has been proved repeatedly that this is not the case. In fact, national research found a clear correlation between enforcement of road safety legislation and casualty reduction. This is a major priority for us and we will be taking a tough approach to irresponsible drivers.”

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