Almost 1,000 drivers in Wales were caught illegally using their mobile phone at the wheel during a two-week long campaign last month by police forces across the country. However, reports published earlier this year regarding phone usage by motorists suggests that police across England and Wales are barely scratching the surface of the problem.
Nearly half the 972 motorists fined in last month’s All-Wales Anti-Mobile Phone While Driving were from the Dyfed-Powys Police area, with 242 caught by South Wales Police, 148 by North Wales Police and 128 by Gwent Police.
Susan Storch, chairperson of Road Safety Wales, which co-ordinated the initiative commented: "We all need to take account of how we drive on our roads and driving a vehicle requires us to multi-task so anything above and beyond that needs to wait until we are safely parked up or until our journey has finished," she added.
"While it's saddening to see that so many motorists got caught using a mobile phone whilst driving it has also demonstrated the resolve of all the Road Safety Wales partners in tackling this issue and we will continue to work together to drive home the message that you need to switch off before you drive off."
Inspector Lee Ford of Gwent Police added: "This campaign is just one part of our ongoing effort to target and reduce the number of drivers who risk becoming involved in a serious or fatal collision due to using a mobile phone while driving."
Prior to the campaign, which ran from 8th October to 21st October, being launched, Inspector Ford had said: "The consequences of a momentary lapse in concentration when driving can be devastating to road users and pedestrians.
"As soon as a driver answers a call, looks at their phone to text or read a message, their concentration is affected and as a result, they cannot give their full attention to the road and risk becoming involved in a collision.
"With the greater use of smartphones, drivers need to be aware that it is not just making a call or texting that are distractions, but using a phone to access applications, e-mails or the internet. These actions carry the same danger, hence, the same penalty.
"Remember to switch off before you drive and pick up any missed calls or texts when it is safe and convenient to do so. If you need to use the phone when driving, then stop at the first safe opportunity."
Using a handheld mobile phone while driving – including while stopped in traffic or while waiting at traffic lights – has been illegal since 2003 and is punishable by a fixed penalty of £60 and 3 points on the motorist’s driving licence. Cases that go to court can result in a maximum fine of £1,000 for car drivers and £2,500 for those in charge of larger vehicles such as buses or lorries.
Hands-free kits can be used, although drivers can still be prosecuted for driving without due care and atention should prosecutors determine that they were distracted by the equipment.
As Inspector Ford said, the rise of smartphone usage has also exacerbated the problem – a report commissioned by road safety charity IAM from the Transport Research Laboratory published in March this year found that accessing social networks on the move is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.
At the start of this year, insurer Swiftcover revealed that following a Freedom of Information request, it had found that 171,000 motorists in England and Wales had been fined and had their licences endorsed during the previous 12 months as a result of illegal mobile phone use.
The company added that its own research among drivers suggested that only 3 per cent of those who use their phone behind the wheel were getting caught.
Commenting on that revelation, Katie Shephard of the road safety charity Brake said: “If 171,000 drivers have been caught, perhaps the penalties aren’t high enough.
“There is no call important enough to risk your life or that or another road user. Our message to all drivers is switch off your mobile when behind the wheel.”
You don’t have to spend too long standing at the side of a reasonably buy road watching traffic pass to realise that it’s a message that still isn’t getting through.
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.