Police admit fines failing to put brakes on mobile phone drivers
THE number of drivers using mobile phones behind the wheel has soared to the same level as before the ban was imposed.
According to police, many motorists treat the prospect of a 30 fine as little more than an "occupational hazard" akin to a parking ticket.
Despite fines being issued to more than 20,000 phone-using drivers north of the Border, Scots police are shortly to launch a renewed crackdown on the dangerous habit.
The campaign will also serve as a reminder that from next spring, using a mobile phone while driving will result in three penalty points as well as a fine.
Recent work carried out by the Berkshire-based Transport Research Laboratory looked at the habits of 100,000 drivers on the UK's roads. The results were compared with similar studies carried out prior to the December 2003 ban and twice in 2004, the first full year of the ban. The research discovered the phone ban has not been particularly effective. Pre-ban, around 1.5% of car drivers and 2.4% of other vehicle drivers were using a mobile at any one time.
Shortly after the ban, those figures dropped to 1.1% and 2% respectively.
The most recent research found that phone use had returned to the same level as before the ban was imposed.
Worryingly, the study concluded: "The results showed that the rate of hand-held mobile use by car drivers had returned by 2005 to the level found in September 2003, before legislation restricting the use of mobile phones took effect."
The campaign will see more high-profile enforcement by police throughout Scotland in an effort to deter drivers from using their mobiles, including officers prominently placed near junctions, stop-checks and advertising on motorway signs.
Police insist they have been rigorous in catching and prosecuting offenders, but insiders say that only the addition of penalty points to the punishment will make the ban effective. A law doing precisely that is due to come into force from April 1 next year.
A senior Scottish police source said: "Don't be in doubt that the law is being enforced and people are being caught. But while it carries nothing more than a 30 fine, people will view that as nothing more than a parking fine. Getting caught and done will be just one of these things."
Roger Vincent, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: "We welcome this campaign by the Scottish police forces. There is an urgent need to remind people that using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and illegal. Although there was a good response when the law was introduced all the research shows that over the year people forget."
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Learmonth, spokesman on the issue for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), said: "I would urge all drivers not to use their mobile phone whilst they are driving. The dangers not only to themselves but also to other road users are obvious. Distraction from driving could result in the loss of someone's life."
Scotland's police forces have issued fixed penalties to 20,120 drivers since the ban was introduced in December 2003.
But figures have shown almost one in 10 who are caught and issued with penalties are effectively let off the hook.
Information which was obtained by Scotland on Sunday in April showed that of the 13,200 drivers who by then had been issued with on-the-spot fines, 1,825 had been reported to procurators fiscal, but just 625 had been taken to court, with the others either given a second chance to pay or a fiscal warning.
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