'Stigma' drives down use of mobiles at wheel
DRIVERS who use their mobile phones are getting stick from other motorists as the habit starts to acquire a stigma similar to drink driving, police chiefs said today.
The number of drivers caught chatting on the phone behind the wheel has fallen by more than a third in the region in the past two months.
The drop has coincided with the introduction of tougher new penalties.
But police chiefs said they believed the change was also down to changing attitudes among drivers.
Traffic officers have noticed growing numbers of city motorists sounding their horns at other drivers who are using their phones. They are also seeing an increasing willingness to report the offence to the police.
A total of 421 drivers have been hit with the new penalty of a 60 fine and three points on their licence in the past two months. In January and February, before the new powers were introduced, 662 motorists were given the lower 30 fine.
Chief Inspector Sandy Allan, of the force's road policing branch, said he had been particularly pleased to see signs of a change in public attitudes.
"We were unsure of what was going to happen when the new laws came into effect but we're glad to see a reduction," he said. "The message appears to be getting through to people. Our officers have also noticed that members of the public are now responding to drivers using phones on the road.
"We've seen a number of examples where drivers sound their horns at motorists breaking the law.
"Using the phone behind the wheel seems to be becoming a social stigma in much the same way as drink driving.
"Drivers have also called police to report motorists repeatedly using phones on the bypass which our officers can respond to.
"I know of at least one driver who has been reported for summons and will likely lose their licence under the totting up process.
"That is something we'll see more and more among drivers who refuse to obey the law."
A trucker who ploughed through roadworks while talking on his phone was one of the drivers caught in a crackdown during the first week of the new laws, introduced on February 27.
Luckily, no workers were injured when the HGV driver crashed into warning signs and cones near Edinburgh Airport.
Mr Allan said road policing officers would continue to mount periodic blitzes to raise awareness but catching offenders would remain a "daily priority".
He added: "I'm not sure how big a difference the rise from 30 to 60 is making, but I'm sure the threat of points and people losing their licence is having a big impact.
"Drivers using phones are putting their lives and the lives of their passengers at risk, but also other road users.
"No-one can expect to control their vehicle in that situation."
Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the Institute of Advanced Motorists Motoring Trust, said: "It can be difficult to compare figures as the levels of police enforcement may have varied. But, on the face of it, this drop is good news and it does appear the message is getting through. The police must continue to tackle the problem.
"Drivers with a phone glued to their ear often veer across roads. They are a danger and that annoys people.
"It's up to members of the public to discourage the practice, as well as family, friends and employers, because the police will never have the resources to catch everyone."
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