Mobile phones still driving West Yorkshire motorists to distraction

All too common a sight: Using a mobile phone at the wheel can cause fatal errors of judgement.
All too common a sight: Using a mobile phone at the wheel can cause fatal errors of judgement.

Too many people in West Yorkshire are still using their mobile phones while driving according to a road safety charity.

That is the warning after figures revealed that more than 14,000 people have been caught using their mobiles behind the wheel in West Yorkshire since 2013.

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Statistics released after a Freedom of Information request by the Courier show that 14,348 drivers were caught using their mobile phones while driving, although the yearly figure has fallen from 3,969 in 2013.

In 2014, the figure was 2,626, which fell slightly to 2,538 in 2015. In 2016, the figure rose to 3,458, but last year, the figure dropped to 1,757.

For offences committed on or after March 1, 2017, penalties for using a handheld mobile phone or device while driving have increased from three to six penalty points and from £100 to £200 when the driver is issued with a fixed penalty notice.

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A spokesman for the charity Brake said: “It’s encouraging to see that the introduction of tougher penalties for mobile phone use behind the wheel are having the desired effect.

“However, it is still a common sight to see drivers using their phones so more needs to be done to rid our roads of this dangerous menace. We urge the government to invest more in roads policing, so that there is a visible deterrent to dangerous driving behaviour and so those that choose to break the law are caught. Taking your eyes off the road for just a second can have catastrophic consequences and so we urge all drivers to put their phones in the glovebox, out of reach.”

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In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said: “The risks associated with using a phone while behind the wheel are very clear and we have been proactive in warning people of the dangers.

We have been involved in social media campaigns focused on the use of mobile phones, such as ‘Don’t Stream and Drive’.

“Likewise, we have worked to promote the ‘Fatal Four’ campaign around drink/drugs, speeding, mobile phones and not wearing a seatbelt.

“All of this is having a significant impact on the behaviour of drivers and reducing the number of offences.

“Any driver can be distracted by a phone call or text message or notification. It affects the ability to concentrate and anticipate the road ahead, putting the driver and other road users at risk. The law banning the use of mobile phones while driving has been in place for well over a decade; this along with the recent increase in penalties has gone some way to make the use of a mobile phone socially unacceptable.

“Our officers will robustly deal with anyone who is caught with their handheld mobile phone while behind the wheel and proactively enforce the law.

“Over the last year 300 new police officers have been recruited.

“A number of these officers have been dedicated to roads policing, as part of our Neighbourhood Policing approach.”

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “No phone call or text is worth a life. Driving is a risky activity and needs full concentration at all times. I have seen families devastated by death and serious injury caused by drivers who couldn’t wait to make a call.

“Recent changes to the fixed penalty notice and an increase in penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving, along with more police enforcement, have raised awareness. It is encouraging to see that figures in our area are going down. But with evidence showing that using hands-free phones increases crash risk as much as handheld phones due to the distraction of the conversation we must work for the day when nobody uses their phone in the car and everybody goes home safe. My message is: be phone smart, and commit to never to use a phone at the wheel.”

Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “Having spent time with West Yorkshire Police’s Road Policing Unit, I know that tackling dangerous driving is one of their top priorities, with the use of mobile phones at the wheel deemed to be one of the ‘fatal four’. So I’m glad that we are seeing this reduction.

“We all have a role to play in encouraging friends and family to put their phones away while driving. Although it may seem harmless to use a phone in the car, we have all witnessed road users make shocking decisions while on their phones behind the wheel, and so 94 arrests in Halifax last year is still too many.

“In addition to this, with 21,000 fewer police officers across the country, it is my fear that we are seeing a reduction in arrests for specific crimes because it is becoming harder to dedicate officers to tackling crimes on our roads. I really do hope that is not the case.”

Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin said: “Too many lives have been taken and too many families have been torn apart as a result of drivers using their mobile phones behind the wheel.

“There really is no excuse for it, so it is encouraging that the number of people being caught locally is reducing thanks to the hard work of the police.

“While the number of drivers being caught is reducing, we must remain aware that the problem is not going away. I welcomed the tougher penalties that were brought in for drivers last year – but I still see motorists brazenly using their mobiles on our roads and putting people’s lives in danger.

“This is one of the many reasons why it is vital that the Tory government commit to investing in our police force. Since 2010, 21,000 police officers have been axed across England and Wales and this is having a devastating effect on our communities.”