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Stronger penalties needed for texting drivers, says Institute of Advanced Motorists

Charity’s analysis finds low average jail term and short driving ban for causing death by dangerous driving


Longer and more consistent sentencing is needed as a deterrent for drivers who are tempted to text while at the wheel, a road safety charity has urged.

An Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) analysis of eleven recent prosecutions involving mobile and smartphone use while driving found that the average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is four-and-a-half years in prison and a disqualification from driving for seven years.

Just this month we highlighted the case of Hope Fennell, who was hit by an 18-tonne truck driven by Darren Foster as she rode her bike across a pedestrian crossing on Kings Heath High Street on November 7 2011.

Foster had been exchanging text messages with his girlfriend while driving round the city and failed to see Hope as she rode out into the road.
As the girl lay dying under his vehicle, Foster attempted to delete the messages in an attempt to cover up.

He was sentenced to two months in jail for the driving offence and four months for perverting the course of justice.

Since 2006, 750,000 fixed penalties have been issued to drivers for using phones while driving.

It’s a problem that’s on the rise, according to research we reported on earlier this year.

More than twice as many drivers now admit illegally texting at the wheel compared to this time last year according to a new survey from Halfords, accompanied by a fourfold increase in those who use their handsets to check social networking sites.

A Onepoll online survey of 2,083 drivers conducted on behalf of the retailer found that while almost nine in ten respondents said that using a handheld mobile while driving created a danger to the motorist and other road users, many were themselves guilty of that behaviour.

And in the United States, new research shows that texting while driving has now overtaken drinking and driving as the primary cause of death among teens in the country, claiming 3,000 lives a year, compared to 2,700 who are killed as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol.

IAM chief executive Simon Best said: “The maximum sentence available to the courts is fourteen years, so there is still scope for an even stronger road safety message that drivers who kill whilst distracted on their phones will be caught and jailed for a long time.

“The lesson here is obvious: never use your phone while driving. Whether you have a hands free kit or use loudspeaker, it doesn’t matter. Using your phone in any capacity reduces your attention from the task at hand – driving.”

His comments do not however chime with a study we reported on last month, where a study by Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics found that driving while talking on a mobile phone does not increase the risk of a collision.

Researchers analysed eight million crashes in the USA over a three year period from 2002 to 2005 and found no link between conversations being had on mobile phones and collisions - but the results did not include texting and using mobile internet, which have increased enormously in popularity in the following years.

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