3 August 2014
The Sunday Times
George Arbuthnott and Audrey Ward
Labour has backed the Sunday Times campaign of “Don’t phone and drive” by pledging to increase the penalties if it wins next year’s general election.
Richard Burden, the shadow roads minister, accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” for standing by as the number of accidents caused by mobile phone use rose in each of the past five years.
Last month Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, announced he was considering increasing the typical penalty from three points to six.
Burden said that extra penalty points as well as an automatic one-year ban — matching the tariff for drink-driving — would be on the table if there is a Labour government. “The penalties have got to be appropriate,” he said.
“Increasing the number of points will be part of that and doubling it to six points sounds sensible. It needs to reflect the seriousness of the offence.”
Burden also pledged to fulfil our campaign’s other aim of a public awareness crusade to highlight the dangers. There has not been such a government-backed campaign since 2009, a clear result of the cutting of the Think! road safety budget from £19m in 2008-9 to £3.6m last year.
Burden criticised the reduction of traffic police numbers by 12% in the five years to 2012, with some forces undergoing cuts of up to 44%, according to a survey by Brake, the road safety charity.
“Driving up and down the motorway checking who is on their mobile phone doesn’t feel like a priority job at the time,” he said.
“But if that person using that mobile then ploughs into another vehicle,we will all see why it should have been a priority.”
Burden pledged to set a clear target to cut deaths and serious injuries on the road, probably to be a one-third reduction by 2020.
His comments come days after Marina Usaceva, 31, a mother of one, was jailed for six years after she killed Sukhdeep Singh Johal, 27, a science graduate, while using two mobile phones at the wheel of her Jaguar.