April 4, 2006

Sharp rise in number of drivers caught on the phone

2005-2-7-cell-phone-driver.jpgThe number of motorists caught driving and using mobile phones has risen by nearly 75 per cent in a year, The Times has learnt.

The number of fixed penalty notices has risen from 80,000 in 2004 to more than 140,000 last year. The proceeds for the Treasury exceed 7 million.

Some forces have been checking speed-camera pictures for drivers using mobile phones while others are using routine automatic number plate recognition checks to catch motorists chatting and driving.

Next year penalties for driving while using a handheld mobile will rise from 30 to 60. On top of this the offence will carry a three-point driving licence endorsement.

The risk of being caught by police differs widely across the country. Drivers are most likely to be caught on their mobile phones in Northern Ireland, where one in 103 members of the population has received a fixed penalty notice. One in 195 people in the Central Scotland Police area has been fined, with drivers in urban areas such as Manchester, London and Merseyside also likely to be penalised. Just one in 1,139 Sussex residents has been fined, while Devon and Cornwall and Humberside Police were also less likely to impose the fixed penalties.

Police forces say they have had to abandon the softly-softly approach, because drivers refuse to face up to the risks of driving while on the phone.

Although patrols remain the most common method of catching drivers, the implementation of Automatic Number Plate Recognition has also contributed to the rise in fines, as the system had led to more vehicles being observed and more drivers being caught.

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