Minister admits using mobile phone while driving

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The Independent Online

As a minister in the Home Office, which introduced curbs on using mobile phones while driving, Liam Byrne was aware of the dangers of chatting at the wheel. But that did not stop him and yesterday he admitted breaking the law.

Mr Byrne, 37, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, was accused of "setting a bad example" by road safety groups after being fined £100 with £35 costs and a £15 victim surcharge. He was also given three points on his licence, adding to the three points from an earlier offence.

The Immigration minister told his local Sutton Coldfield magistrates' court in a letter that he was taking an important call on a deportation matter at the time of the offence on 6 July this year.

Mr Byrne drove along Tyburn Road, Birmingham, using a handheld mobile phone, contrary to section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1998, the court heard.

In his letter, he expressed remorse for the offence, and told magistrates that he accepted there was no excuse and that he should have pulled over to take the call.

Magistrates said that his fine would have been £150, but was reduced because of Mr Byrne's prompt guilty plea and his expression of remorse.

In a statement he said: "Talking on a phone without a hands-free set is wrong. I have apologised unreservedly to the court."

The Institute of Advanced Motorists said yesterday: "The annoying thing is the implication that the minister's phone call while driving was so important that he couldn't pull over to take it. That is totally unacceptable."

When serving as a minister for policing, Liam Byrne told a parliamentary committee that the most dangerous drivers were "serial potential killers" and said that he was "shocked" at the leniency of sentences handed down to them.

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "The Home Office is responsible for the law and its ministers should be well aware of it and set the correct example."

More than 126,000 people were penalised for the offence in 2005 and many still flout the law. On Monday a motorist was jailed for two years for causing the death of an 80-year-old pedestrian while using a mobile phone at the wheel.

Speaking of Mr Byrne's conviction, Cynthia Barlow, chairman of the crash victims' charity RoadPeace, said: "It's the law that you should not use a mobile phone while driving, and he knew perfectly well he should have stopped and pulled over while making a call, and he did not."

The MP is tipped for promotion . Allies of Gordon Brown made it clear that the case would not affect his political career.