Train drivers miss red lights while using phones

Train drivers being warned about mobile phone use while driving. Picture: PA
Train drivers being warned about mobile phone use while driving. Picture: PA
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TRAIN drivers are being shown DVDs about the deadly risks of using mobile phones after dozens were caught driving through red lights while distracted by their handsets.

ScotRail is among the latest train operators to run a campaign to highlight the dangers.

The warnings were triggered by the death of 25 people in a Californian train crash caused by a driver texting. Several cross-Border operators have also raised the issue with staff.

Official figures show at least 37 drivers across Britain were caught driving through a red signal while using a phone between 1998 and 2010. They include a Virgin Trains driver caught around seven years ago, driving a CrossCountry train, many of which are cross-Border services.

Since the figures were compiled, a Scottish driver with East Coast, which runs trains between Scotland and London, was caught in 2011. The firm said the person was no longer a train driver.

ScotRail’s current “Switched On” campaign is focused on increasing driver alertness in 15 areas, including mobile phone use and signals.

The campaign’s leaflets and posters, aimed at drivers, include one titled “Switch on to Switch off”, which shows a smartphone in someone’s hand with a cross through it. It states that using a mobile can slow down a driver’s reaction time by 50 per cent, and drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident while using one.

Alan Jardine, ScotRail’s head of operational safety, said the unauthorised use of a mobile phone or electronic device was a “significant distraction”, which considerably increased the risk of an accident.

He told CIRAS – the rail industry’s confidential reporting system – that investigations had confirmed, in several incidents involving ScotRail drivers, that the use of technology had contributed to driver distraction.

Mr Jardine also said there had been incidents in which the main cause had been inattention, and in some cases, ScotRail could not rule out use of technology as a potential factor.

The California crash, in 2008, prompted the UK’s Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) to highlight the dangers of mobile use.

Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said it had been campaigning on the issue for more than a decade.

Scottish secretary Kevin Lindsay said: “Several train operators issue mobiles to drivers, but we have called for them to be kept out of cabs. There should be a blanket industry ban.”

ScotRail said since its campaign was launched it had been copied by train operators in the United States. East Coast said it had also run similar campaigns.

A spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “We can confirm our rules mean the use of mobile phones is not allowed in driving cabs. This policy has been agreed with and is a joint policy with Aslef.”

CrossCountry, now run by Arriva, said: “We regularly brief our drivers on the importance of not using mobile devices.”

A total of 250 signals were passed at danger (SPADs) in 2012-13 compared to 276 the previous year.

The RSSB said the vast majority of SPADs did not have the potential to cause a serious accident.