PHONE CRACKDOWN: 42 caught on first day of op targeting drivers with mobiles
Dorset Police

Forty-two drivers using mobile phones at the wheel were caught on the first day of a police crackdown in just six hours in one force area as tougher penalties came into force.

The offenders – the first of whom was caught within five minutes of the campaign being launched – were handed penalties and fines doubled to six points and £200 as road patrols in Wiltshire’s neighbouring force of Dorset on the first day of the law change got under way.

Patrols are being stepped up in a week-long campaign across the England and Wales.

Dorset Police

By noon yesterday, Dorset Police said they had stopped 31 drivers on their mobiles. One was a driver of a 7.5 tonne lorry using his phone while travelling around a roundabout.

One motorist was caught within five minutes of police setting up a checkpoint.

The total number caught yesterday was 42 in a six-hour period.

In neighbouring Hampshire three drivers were caught using their phones by officers on the A32 in Fareham within the first half hour of a police crackdown.

A further three motorists face the tougher penalties after being stopped yesterday, including one motorist with 27 points on their licence.

Hampshire Police caught more than 500 drivers in a crackdown on major Hampshire roads after the turn of the year. In one week at the end of January, 204 drivers were caught as part of a nationwide initiative, with 180 fixed penalty notices issued – 55 related to incident on motorways.

But Wiltshire Police were unable to provide figures for the number of drivers caught yesterday, or today, in the force’s crackdown.

A spokesman said: “As of March 1, the penalties for motorists who use their mobile phone whilst driving will double to a £200 fine and six penalty points on their licence.

“If caught for a second time they will automatically be required to appear in court and will face a fine of up to £1,000 and a driving ban of up to six months. For those who are in their first two years of driving this means their licence will automatically be revoked and they will have to re-sit their test.

“Wiltshire Police is participating in a national week of enforcement with a series of proactive operations to catch motorists who continue to take the risk of using their mobile phone whilst driving.

Dorset Police

“All 43 police forces in England and Wales are participating in the week of enforcement action against this offence following similar campaigns in January and last year.

“It is an educational campaign and this is why we will not be releasing local statistics of offences detected, however our statistics do feed in to the national picture and the NPCC release national statistics from their campaign.”

Tri-Force officers reported stopping a van driver on the A303 in Wiltshire yesterday who was using a mobile phone. He had no licence, no insurance, his vehicle was 26 per cent overweight and he was also reported for obstructing police.

Sergeant Joe Pardey, from the Alliance Roads Policing department, called the Dorset figures “very disappointing”.

He said: “In the end we had a wide range of people – males, females, young and old, a real mixture.

“There was also one new driver, so that person will be subject to having their licence revoked. She was disappointed with herself, she even commented that her dad had mentioned the change in legislation earlier that morning.

“One person has already got six points, so they’ll be going to court to possibly lose their licence – this shows the increased penalties can have a huge effect.

“Forty-two drivers is very disappointing; using a mobile phone at the wheel can have devastating consequences.”

One driver who was caught said: “I’m on the road every day, so I understand what goes on. OK, I’ve made a silly mistake here, but I do understand the need for this sort of action.”

The new measures are being introduced following a series of high-profile cases and research suggesting the practice is widespread.

Lorry driver Tomasz Kroker was jailed for 10 years in October after killing a woman and three children by ploughing into their stationary car on the A34 near Newbury, Berkshire, while distracted by his phone.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said increasing fixed penalties will be a “strong deterrent”.

The Department for Transport said members of the public can report repeat offenders anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

According to the Transport Research Laboratory, reaction times are twice as long for drivers who are texting compared with those who have been drinking.

And Thames Valley Police stopped 11 people during a two-hour period in Ock Street, Abingdon, yesterday morning.

Two drivers, a man and a woman, are now in the process of having their licences revoked.

Between January 1, 2014, and September 30, 2016, there were 145 collisions across the neighbouring Thames Valley force area where the use of a mobile phone while driving may have been a contributory factor.

During that period, 11 people died and 195 people were injured.

During the same period, a total of 29,564 tickets were issued to drivers found to be using a mobile device while driving.

A new advert developed by the Government’s road safety group Think! and the AA Charitable Trust shows a drunk man suggesting he should swap places with his sober girlfriend, who is texting on her phone while driving him home.

The campaign will be featured at cinemas and on billboards, radio and social media, with the message: “You wouldn’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive.”

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Motoring groups believe a sharp decline in the number of offenders caught is partly due to police budget cuts affecting enforcement.

An RAC survey found that one in four (26%) motorists admits checking texts, emails and social media while driving.

Sgt Pardey said: “Using a mobile phone at the wheel can have devastating consequences, not only to you and those around you, but other road users.

“We want to make using a mobile whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink or drug driving.”