Drivers ignore warnings over mobile phones

Safety message not getting through, despite threat of tough penalties
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The Independent Online

Motorists are continuing to use mobile phones while driving despite the threat of a lengthy prison sentence if they kill someone in an accident.

A poll, published today, found that 36 per cent of drivers admitted using a hand-held mobile – just 6 per cent down on the figure in 2005 – and 93 per cent had seen someone else on a call while at the wheel of a car in the previous week.

The high level of resistance to attempts to persuade people of the dangers comes despite evidence that texting is more dangerous than driving after drinking the legal limit of alcohol and new legislation enabling offenders to be jailed for the first time.

In August, the penalty for causing a death by careless driving while avoidably distracted – such as using a mobile phone, applying make-up, eating or drinking – was increased from a £5,000 fine and penalty points to a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Steve Fowler, editor of What Car? magazine, which carried out the survey, said: "The message is obviously not getting through – if you use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, you may end up killing yourself or others. Research has shown that using a mobile phone at the wheel could be more dangerous than drink-driving.

"Yet it seems you don't have to travel far to see someone who's oblivious to the dangers. They're all too easy to spot by their bad driving habits."

Last year, 144,000 people were prosecuted for using their mobile while driving, an offence punishable by a £60 fine with three penalty points, although if the case goes to court a judge can impose a £1,000 fine on normal motorists and up to £2,500 on drivers of goods vehicles, buses and coaches.

The poll's findings also suggest that those who use mobiles while driving do so frequently. Asked when they had last done so, 12 per cent of motorists said the day of the poll, 5 per cent the previous day, 8 per cent in the last week and 11 per cent the last month. Some 57 per cent had seen another driver using a hand-held mobile while at the wheel that day, 18 per cent on the previous day, 18 per cent in the last week and 4 per cent in the last month. Some 64 per cent of those polled said they had never used a hand-held mobile while at the wheel but only 3 per cent said they had never seen another motorist committing the offence.

In September, the Transport Res-earch Laboratory found that reaction times of drivers who were texting were 35 per cent worse than normal, compared with 12 per cent worse for those who had drunk alcohol up to the legal limit and 21 per cent for people who had smoked cannabis.

Drivers who were texting were also more likely to move across lanes, with steering control found to be 91 per cent poorer than those who were concentrating on the road ahead.

A spokesman for the AA said: "What it comes down to is the perception of the likelihood of being caught and this is down to how often people see a traffic policeman out on the road. If people don't think they are likely to be caught, they will continue to use them.

"It's almost instinctive to pick up the phone and it is a habit that some people find extremely difficult to put on hold while driving. If you're driving to work and the mobile phone goes, you think 'Oh my God, I better answer it'. But you have to be disciplined and let it go to the answering machine and think 'I'll deal with it when I am able to'.