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Full scale of mobile phone abuse in East Lancashire revealed
7:00am Saturday 28th December 2013 in News
THE full scale of mobile phone abuse by drivers in East Lancashire has been revealed for the first time.
Almost 6,000 people have been given penalty points, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show.
And now there are calls from road safety campaigners and MPs for automatic 12 month bans for those caught using their phone behind the wheel.
They say the practice should be as frowned upon as drink driving, as it could be a ‘life or death’ issue.
And police said using a mobile whilst driving was ‘equally as dangerous’ as drink driving.
Almost 6,000 people in East Lancashire have been given three points and a fine since the law was introduced in 2003.
And when the Lancashire Telegraph watched drivers for just half an hour, we spotted nine people texting or calling at the wheel, including two taxi drivers.
Police and politicians have condemned the offenders, who have been accused of putting lives at risk.
MPs are calling on Lancashire Police to put just as many resources into catching those on the phone behind the wheel as they do for drink drivers.
Up to August this year, 5,785 offences were racked up, some by the same drivers, the data showed.
One driver from Blackburn was even caught on four separate occasions and handed 12 points, qualifying them for a ban.
Most offenders were men, who were caught 4,633 times, while women were given three points 1,146 times. The DVLA did not record the driver’s gender on the other six occasions.
East Lancashire was one of the worst in the north west for mobile phone use behind the wheel. Only Preston, Liverpool, Manchester, and Warrington had worse figures out of 13 towns, which included Bolton and Blackpool post code areas.
A Telegraph reporter also surveyed drivers for 30 minutes outside Thwaites Brewery, in Barbara Castle Way, Blackburn.
A total of nine were seen texting or calling, including two taxi drivers.
Others were eating and drinking - technically a ‘driving without due care and attention’ offence - including one woman who was using a spoon to eat food from her lap.
Haslingden and Hyndburn MP Graham Jones said: “This is a life and death issue. Clearly, looking at a smart phone screen while trying to drive is impossible, and can only lead to a higher risk of an accident, possibly fatal.
“I think the police focus on safety and when driving using a mobile phone is as dangerous as driving while under the influence, they ought to be treating the two offences the same.
“If it can be shown that people are flouting the law openly, then for those that are caught, the sentence should be far more severe to deter those that think they can get away with it.
“What the Lancashire Telegraph is doing in highlighting this issue is worthy and it should be congratulated.
“It ought to be frowned upon by wider society, particularly at this time of year.”
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “People using their phone held up to their ear are irresponsible, and how they can do it I don’t know.
“I have seen people sending texts while driving, and that’s dangerous. They could kill themselves, and somebody else.
“Anybody that puts the lives of other people at risk due to being selfish and irresponsible should be treated no differently than a drink driver.”
Drivers or motorcyclists caught using a mobile phone get an automatic fixed penalty notice with three points and a fine.
Although the number of penalty points handed out to offenders has remained at three since 2003, the fine has increased.
It rose from the initial £30 in 2003, to £60 in 2007, and to £100 last year.
The case could also go to court and drivers can be disqualified from driving or riding and get a maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.
New drivers will lose their licence if they get six or more penalty points within two years of passing, and more experienced drivers face a ban after totting up 12 points.
Sergeant Pete Sculpher, from Lancashire Police, said: “Running a red light, using a mobile phone, or people allowing themselves to be distracted for whatever reason can result in serious, if not fatal, consequences and we would always urge people to drive with care and avoid taking risks.
“People don’t realise that using a mobile phone while driving can be equally as dangerous as drink driving and people who wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel while over the limit, will still use their phones during a journey.”
More than 80 per cent of children surveyed by road charity Brake said they had seen drivers using a mobile phone near to their school or home, and 61 per cent said they had been in a car while the driver was talking on their phone.
Brake has called on the government to disqualify the drivers for a minimum of 12 months, as a ‘real deterrent’.
Katie Shephard, director of Brake, said: “We’re living in an age when being constantly connected is the norm; more and more of us have smartphones, and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute.
“Many people who wouldn't dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific.”
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