Drivers caught using their mobile phones near a primary school on Merseyside have been taken by police to meet the children they could have put at risk. They have also shown a DVD containing interviews with parents who had lost their children in such circumstances, and undertake a simulated drive while listening to children’s voices.
The motorists concerned had been caught by police using their mobile phones while driving close to St Aidan’s Primary School in Huyton, and Merseyside Police offered them the options of either being fined and having points put on their licence, or being questioned about their behaviour by children in the school.
The initiative was run jointly by Knowsley Council’s road safety unit and Merseyside Police. It has been an offence to use a mobile phone while driving since 2003, and in 2007 the fixed penalty notice for breaking the law has doubled to £60, with three points added to the driver’s licence.
While drivers are allowed to use hands-free kits, motorists can still be charged with careless or dangerous driving if using on causes the standard of their driving to fall below that which is required.
“This is about showing drivers that taking that call could cost somebody’s life,” explained Councillor Dave Lonergan, Knowsley’s cabinet member for regeneration, economy and skills.
“These children made that message real and made the drivers face up to what dangers they could’ve put them in.
“This isn’t an easy opt out – it’s about showing people the human cost of breaking the law,” he added.
One driver caught in the operation who chose to visit the school was Zoe McAllister from Kirkby, who said: “This really brings it home – I’ve got children myself and felt awful listening to those parents talking about how they felt losing theirs in a road accident.
“You just don’t think ahead and you’re rushing around and you decide to answer that call but now I know why that is such a bad idea.
She added: “I won’t be doing it again.”
Another driver caught using his mobile phone while at the wheel was Daniel Swift of Huyton, who said: “I’ve got a young boy myself and couldn’t imagine anything worse than losing him.
“I was really nervous facing the children’s panel but I think the whole experience has made a difference to me.
“It’s made me realise that even taking a call on a hands free set is distracting,” he continued. “It only takes a few minutes to pull over and that’s what I’ll be doing from now on.”
One pupil involved on the panel that quizzed the drivers, and 11-year-old boy named Joseph, said: “I think some of the drivers thought this was going to be a breeze but when we got talking to them they got scared.
“Maybe that’s because they think kids can’t be serious but we are serious.”
Another, a nine-year-old called Daniel, added: “Don’t answer that call – you just never know who might be crossing the road and it could be a child that you haven’t seen.”
Sergeant Paul Mountford, of Merseyside Police’s Road Policing unit, said: "It’s disappointing that, despite several years of education and campaigning, motorists are still prepared to endanger themselves and others by using mobile phones while driving.
"The last campaign where we worked in partnership with a school and Knowsley Council's Road Safety Team about speeding was very successful and we hope this will have a similar impact.”
During the past year, Merseyside Police has issued 8,306 fixed penalty notices to people caught using their mobile phones while driving.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.