THE SUNDAY TIMES is launching a campaign calling for penalties to be increased for motorists caught driving and texting, and for the government to raise public awareness of the issue. It also wants the police to make routine checks on drivers’ phone records at crash scenes.
More than 500 people are killed or seriously injured on UK roads each year by drivers distracted through using a handheld mobile phone. Recent research has shown that using a mobile phone slowed reactions more than cannabis or alcohol.
Last week Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, announced he was considering doubling the punishment for those caught using a handheld mobile phone while driving to six penalty points.
“The amount of casualties has been absolutely appalling,” he said. “We’ve got to change this.”
If the proposals become law, convicted motorists who have been qualified for less than two years would be banned from driving, because for them the threshold is six penalty points rather than 12. Any driver who has used a handheld phone at the wheel could also be fined up to £4,000 by magistrates.
There is much more the government can do, says the newspaper. The government’s last public awareness campaign, when it warned drivers they were four times more likely to crash if they used a mobile phone, was dropped in 2009, while in the same year it halted its research into the scale of the offence.
To highlight the consequences of using a mobile phone while driving, The Sunday Times spoke to Alan Godfrey, the boyfriend of Jemma O’Sullivan who was killed in 2010 when a lorry crashed into the rear of their removal van, pushing it under a truck.
The driver of the lorry, Christopher Kane, 67, had been texting while travelling at 55mph. He was jailed for five years after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.
Godfrey said: “You are impairing your senses when you drink and drive, and equally you impair your senses when you use a mobile phone. If you’re driving a car and texting, you need to be aware that you are not only putting your own life at risk but you are putting the people around you at risk as well.”
The Sunday Times suggested a selection of apps that help drivers keep their eyes on the road:
Free, Android, BlackBerry
Helps drivers resist the temptation to take a call by silencing mobile phones when travelling at more than 10mph.
Allows calls and texts from three “VIP” contacts and tells everyone else you’re on the road through automatic text.
Jarvis — Texting Robot
Offers to read out and answer driver’s text messages through a Siri- style personal assistant.
No Texting and Driving
Reads text messages aloud and sends auto-response while on the road.
Free, iPhone, Android
Kicks into action during an accident, alerting emergency services and other drivers.