Drivers face tougher penalties for using mobiles as offences soar 77%
THE number of drivers caught using hand-held mobile phones in Scotland's two main police areas has soared compared to a similar crackdown last year.
The jump came as the UK government confirmed it was considering toughening penalties further after its latest survey also showed an increase in misuse.
Minimum fines were doubled to 60 with the addition of three penalty points to driving licences three years ago. However, motoring groups said better enforcement should be the priority.
The one-day co-ordinated action across Scotland on Thursday saw police catching 103 motorists illegally using mobiles in Strathclyde – a 77 per cent rise on last year's 58. One already had nine points on his licence, so now faces being banned from driving.
In Lothian and Borders, there was a 25 per cent rise from 31 to 39, which included a lorry driver reading a text message while driving through central Edinburgh.
The total across Scotland increased from 171 to 180, with several forces seeing a decrease.
However, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) said snow disruption had meant many officers were busy elsewhere. It said motorists using mobile phones while driving were four times more likely to be involved in a crash, with reaction times significantly impaired.
Chief Superintendent Charlie Common, of Lothian and Borders Police, who is also in charge of casualty reduction for Acpos, said: "The number of motorists who continue to use their mobile phone whilst driving is extremely disappointing.
"Knowing first-hand the devastation which road traffic accidents have on families, we are committed to stopping those motorists who continue to ignore the safety warnings and risk their life and the lives of others. My message is clear – there is no phonecall that is worth risking a life for."
The Department for Transport said stiffer penalties were being considered as part of its forthcoming new road safety strategy.
This follows its latest survey which showed the proportion of car drivers using hand-held mobiles while on the roads increased from 1.1 to 1.4 per cent last October compared to a year before. The figure for van and lorry drivers increased from 2.2 to 2.6 per cent.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "Drivers obviously know the law but for whatever reason don't adhere to it. Along with consistent and high-profile policing, drivers need to be educated about how and why driving on the phone is so dangerous. The majority of road users deserve to be protected from an irresponsible and selfish minority, and enforcement – not higher penalties – is the key weapon against them."
Philip Gomm, spokesman for the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, agreed. He said: "It is not about tougher penalties, but tougher enforcement. Police must be given the resources to tackle this menace and drivers persuaded that what they are doing is potentially lethal."
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