27 July 2014
Audrey Ward and George Arbuthnott
The Sunday Times
A quarter of British motorists have spoken on a handheld phone or read texts while driving, despite more than half believing that doing so is as dangerous as driving under the influence of drink or drugs.
According to a YouGov survey for The Sunday Times, 72% of drivers are in favour of increasing the typical current penalty of three points on a licence to six for using a handheld mobile while driving.
Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, announced this month that he was considering such a change and described the number of people injured and killed by drivers using phones as “absolutely appalling”.
The YouGov poll found that 28% of motorists had answered a call while behind the wheel and 26% had read a text or an email. More than nine in ten, 93%, believe doing either is dangerous.
Three in five think using a mobile in a moving vehicle is as dangerous as, or worse than, drink driving and 55% believe it is as dangerous as driving while under the influence of drugs. Almost a third, 30%, believe the option of imposing a custodial sentence should be available to magistrates.
The results come as police have been told to seize mobile phones from drivers at crash scenes so they can check if they were used before any accident.
The guidance has been issued by Suzette Davenport, Gloucestershire’s chief constable and head of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Ed Morrow, from the road safety charity Brake, welcomed the move. “Offenders need to know they will be caught, they will be prosecuted and there will be serious consequences,” he said.
The Sunday Times is urging the government to increase the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving and to launch a public awareness campaign on the issue.
Edmund King, president of the AA motoring association, said a one-year ban should be considered standard for using a mobile phone behind the wheel. “When I drive down the M25 I am surrounded by people with phones glued to their ear,” he said.
“They are idiots. There needs to be a police crackdown and then we should look at a year’s ban.”
Any change in the law will come too late for Imogen Cauthery, 27, who has suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties since being hit by a car driven by a man using his mobile phone in June 1996.
Cauthery’s life was saved by a passing doctor but the then nine-year-old suffered a brain haemorrhage and was in a coma for 10 days. The driver was fined £500 but it took 11 years for Cauthery to win a six-figure compensation payout.
She thinks those who use a phone while driving should lose their licence but described the doubling of points as “a very good first step. When I see people using a phone, taking their licence for granted, I get a really angry feeling,” she said.
“It’s awful that so many drivers think it’s OK to use their phone at the wheel when someone could pay the price of their life for that call or text.”