Police forces across the UK are taking part in a fortnight-long nationwide campaign to crackdown on drivers using phones behind the wheel.
The campaign is being coordinated by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and began yesterday (Monday 8 February) and runs until 21 February, it has been revealed.
The campaign comes ahead of a significant change to the law that will banish drivers from being able to touch a device at all when on the move.
Fortnight phone crackdown: A nationwide police campaign has started this week to target motorists using their phones behind the wheel
The NPCC says this year’s targeted crackdown is particularly pertinent, given the unprecedented strain currently being placed on the emergency services by the Covid-19 pandemic – and the need for those using the roads not to add to that pressure.
In support of the campaign, police forces will be specifically targeting motorists found to be committing the offence.
The crackdown is likely to cause a spike in the number of drivers being penalised for the transgression, which is punishable by six points on a licence and a £200 fine – not to mention the increase in insurance premiums for having a blotted driving record.
It also means new drivers who have passed their test in the last two years could potentially lose their licence altogether.
Warwickshire Police is asking the public not to be tempted to use a hand held mobile phone while driving, amid a ‘worrying shift in attitudes’.
The police crackdown on drivers using phones will be in operation from 8 February to 21 February
During 2019, the force issued 390 drivers with fixed penalty notices for the offence. In 2020, despite lockdown restrictions, a further 267 notices were issued to drivers.
Jem Mountford, an inspector from the Warwickshire force, said: ‘We are seeing a worrying shift in attitudes to mobile phone use behind the wheel and this is raising many safety concerns.
‘We are seeing more drivers looking down to use a handheld mobile phone to use social media apps, select music, check emails or texting while driving when they should be focussing on the road ahead. We are asking these drivers to consider how their actions could affect themselves and other people.
‘Whoever you are texting or calling, whether parents, family, or friends, they would not want you to have a collision potentially injuring yourself or someone else.’
Meanwhile in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, the tri-force Roads Policing Unit is urging all motorists to put their mobile phones away and avoid unnecessary distractions.
Last year, more than a quarter of all collisions in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire that involved a motorist who was using their mobile phone ended in fatality or serious injury.
Police forces across the country have been spreading the word of the impeding clampdown on social media
The crackdown is likely to cause a spike in the number of drivers being penalised for the transgression, which is punishable by six points on a licence and a £200 fine – not to mention the increase in insurance premiums for having a blotted driving record
Chief inspector Stephen O’Keeffe, head of the tri-force Roads Policing Unit, said: ‘You might think glancing down at your phone is ok but not looking where you are driving is incredibly dangerous.
‘At that moment you are not aware of what is happening around you. It only takes a second for circumstances to change and for you to be involved in a collision, either with another road user or a pedestrian.
‘At a time when emergency services are under unprecedented strain, we must do everything in our power to look after ourselves and those around us. That includes not putting lives at risk by driving dangerously.’
Crackdown comes ahead rule changes banning drivers from ‘touching’ phones behind the wheel
The Government is on course this year to introduce a change to the law that will criminalise the use of hand-held mobile phones ‘in all circumstances while driving’.
Currently drivers can only be prosecuted for using a mobile phone behind the wheel if they’re performing an ‘interactive communication’, such as making handheld calls, texting, or using the internet.
Ministers are wanting to close the loophole after a number of high profile cases of motorists escaping prosecution for recording videos behind the wheel.
These include a man in July 2018 having a conviction overturned after he had filmed a crash as he drove by.
His lawyers successfully argued that he was not using the device to communicate and escaped charges.
The says the current legislation has fallen behind advances in smartphone technology
The government’s aim to revise the laws will mean browsing the internet and searching playlists while driving will be forbidden and punishable.
However, Nick Freeman, known as Mr Loophole for his ability to secure acquittals for celebrity clients such as David Beckham, believes the changes to the law will be a ‘spectacular own goal’ by the government.
Mr Freeman has himself used the argument of a ‘non-interactive communication’ to successfully defend comedian and presenter Jimmy Carr after he was accused of using a mobile phone while driving in 2019.
The 64-year-old lawyer successfully defended Carr by claiming he was using his iPhone to record a joke while at the wheel – and therefore didn’t fall foul of the legislation.
Controversially, the motoring lawyer claims that by banning drivers from filming at the wheel it will block an evidence stream of footage provided to police that shows other motorists breaking the law – despite the fact the individual recording will also be failing to pay full attention to the road ahead.
‘This new law means drivers will no longer be able to film other motorists using their phones in an unlawful way,’ he explains.
Motoring lawyer Nick Freeman says it will be an ‘own goal’ to ban drivers from being able to record other motorists breaking the law
‘Traditionally, this kind of footage – usually taken in a queue or at a red light – has provided the basis for countless successful prosecutions.
‘In fact over the years the police have actively exhorted the public to use their phones this way to ensnare law breaking drivers.’
He adds: ‘But since filming or taking pictures will no longer be lawful, there`ll be a massive reduction in footage from the public.
‘As a result, far fewer dangerous drivers will be brought to justice. In short it is the most spectacular – and hazardous – own goal.’
One factor Mr Freeman appears to have overlooked is the significant increase in the use of dashcams in recent years.
The devices are primarily for settling disputes in insurance claims but have also been utilised as a means of recording incriminating videos other road users.
And the footage captured can be uploaded to a police database to be used as evidence.
The National Dash Cam Safety Portal, launched by Nextbase in July 2018, has been a huge success.
The databases rapidly speeds up the process of convictions, with officers able to review footage quickly and use it to prosecute motorists for dangerous and careless driving.
Road users have sent more than 50,000 dashcam videos to police since the portal was setup, it was reported at the end of last year.
Almost a third of these recording have resulted in a court summons, Fixed Penalty Notice, driver awareness course and some form of written warning from the authorities, the investigation found.
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