Police crackdown on use of mobiles when driving

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Man using his phone while drivingImage source, PA

Police in England and Wales are conducting a week-long crackdown on motorists who use their mobile phones while driving.

The operations will include dedicated patrols and messages on road signs.

The move follows government plans to double fines and points for using a mobile while driving.

The National Police Chiefs' Council said the campaign aims "to make 'driving distracted' as socially unacceptable as drink driving".

The national week of action comes after a previous one in May, which the police said resulted in the detection of 2,323 offences across the week.

It comes after an RAC survey in September suggested the number of motorists illegally using mobile phones while at the wheel was rising.

Of the motorists asked, 31% said they had used a handheld phone behind the wheel compared with 8% in 2014.

'Innovative approaches'

As part of the latest campaign week, police officers will work together with paramedics to educate the public on the risks of using phones while driving.

The officers on the dedicated patrols will be using unmarked vans, helmet cams, high-seated vehicles and high vantage points to catch offenders, the police said.

There will also be social media videos and messages, schemes enabling "community spotters" to target repeat offenders, and messages which will be displayed on commuter routes telling motorists to leave their phones alone.

"It won't work"

Paul Newman is the founder of charity Handsoff. His sister, Ellen, was killed by a driver who was using a mobile phone in 2006.

Mr Newman told BBC Radio 5 live "all the policing in the world" would not work and that the industry had a "huge responsibility" in fixing the problem.

"This is just the beginning, the car has been bombarded by technology and nobody is taking notice of it.

"It's worse than ever out there and it's never going to stop. There will be a crackdown but that will go away, give it a few weeks and back to normal. It won't work."

He told the programme the act of motorists using mobile phones at the wheel should be treated worse than drink-driving.

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport from the NPCC said tackling mobile phone use by drivers needed "innovative approaches".

"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."

Police should target the persistent offenders just like any other crime, AA president Edmund King told BBC Radio 5 live.

Drivers are "addicted" to their phones and there are lessons to be learnt from drink-driving and seatbelt campaigns, he said.

Mr King added it was crucial to have enforcement behind any "hard-hitting" campaign.

'Dangerous pastime'

People checking social media and texting is much more common than taking calls at the wheel, PC Derek Kitcher of Gwent Police told BBC Radio 5 live's Breakfast programme.

He said most offenders do not realise that a police car is next to them until an officer beeps their horn.

Fellow officer Sgt Leighton Healan told the programme it was something that was becoming socially unacceptable and was a "dangerous pastime".

Drink-driving was a personal choice whereas mobile phone usage was almost a spontaneous offence, he said.

"What we want to do is educate people, raise awareness around the use of mobile phones and prevent it in the first place. As a police force I'm not always keen to issue that fine if education is better served."

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