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The growing issue of texting while driving: New measures don’t go far enough

PUBLISHED: 15:25 20 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:25 20 December 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

stevanovicigor

Texting on mobile phones while driving is a growing issue. Last year on the A31, Lee Martin lost his life to just that – his brother tells Alice Cooke proposed new measures don’t go far enough

Lee Martin was killed on the A31 near Bentley in August of last year by a driver using a mobile phone. His brother Darrell said police told him there was 90 seconds of clear road when driver Christopher Gard, who had at least six previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel, could have seen Lee, but did not. I guarantee if you do not text behind the wheel, you know somebody who does. But why do you think that’s ok?

New proposals to double the punishment for using a device behind the wheel (six points on the licence and a £200 fine) are not enough. Gard ploughed into Lee Martin at 65mph on 12 August last year – Lee was taking part in a cycling time trial event with the North Hampshire Road Club at the time.

Darrell said: “I do wonder who they are aiming the £200 fine at …£200 is affordable, it can just be written off as another driving cost. £200 is not a deterrent, for most people it is just a minor inconvenience.”

But the new policy would see drivers hit the 12-point threshold for an automatic ban after two offences instead of four. If it comes into force, young motorists with less than two years on the road will have their licence revoked after being caught just once. This month, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said he wanted the use of mobiles at the wheel to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

Darrell added that when using a mobile phone while driving first became illegal, phones were not anywhere near as sophisticated as they are now – his point being that they are now more of a distraction, and more people use them while driving than ever before so the punishment needs to reflect that.

But Kevin Delaney of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, and former head of the Metropolitan Police’s traffic division, said he thinks the new punishment will struggle.

“We have had the regulations now for about 13 years or so and they haven’t been particularly successful – that is despite the fact that government increased the penalties twice, at least, in that time.”

Pete Williams, road safety spokesman for the RAC, disagreed: “Toughening the fine and the penalty points will help to deter people from doing it in the first place. However, it is just as important that laws are seen to be enforced. The decline in the numbers of dedicated road traffic police has only heightened the feeling that those who use a handheld phone while driving simply get away with it.”

Research shows drivers’ reaction times are up to 50 per cent slower than normal when using a mobile phone. Phone use while driving was a contributory factor in 21 fatal accidents in 2014 and 22 the following year.

So my question is a simple one – we all know it’s wrong, we all know it’s dangerous, and the vast majority of us wouldn’t dream of drink driving, so why do we think we can drive and text? This is not safe and not acceptable. How many more lives have to be lost before we pay attention?

The tougher sanctions are likely to come into force in the first half of 2017, with details set to be unveiled in the coming weeks. I for one hope that Hampshire takes heed and listens.

Do you have an opinion on this story? Email the editor on Simon.O’Neill@archant.co.uk to see your views in print.

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