but lives still lost. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is reminding motorists – and their employers – about the risks of making a call or texting at the wheel five years after it became illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
A new law introduced in Britain on December 1, 2003, banned the use of hand-held phones while driving and also made it an offence to cause or permit another person to do so.
But casualty figures show that people are still being needlessly killed and injured in phone-related crashes.
There were 25 fatal accidents, 64 serious accidents and 259 slight accidents on Britain's roads last year in which a driver using a mobile phone was recorded as a contributory factor, although these figures almost certainly underestimate the true extent of the problem.
Kevin Clinton, RoSPA head of road safety, said: “RoSPA led the campaign to ban the use of mobile phones by drivers and as we reach the law's fifth anniversary, it is important that people do not forget the clear road safety reasons behind it.
“Research has shown that using a mobile phone at the wheel – whether hand-held or hands-free – makes you four times more likely to crash. This is because of the distraction of the telephone conversation, which can cause drivers to tailgate, weave about on the road and vary their speed. While the law specifically covers hand-held mobiles, research such as this means it is wrong to suggest that using a hands-free device is safe.
“Police are able to check telephone records when gathering evidence in careless driving and dangerous driving cases and use them to show that someone was distracted. This can lead to tougher sentences because using a mobile phone of any kind while driving is likely to be viewed as an 'aggravating circumstance'.”
Observational research has revealed a reduction in the number of motorists using mobile phones since 2003, including a fall after harsher penalties for breaking the law were introduced last year.
But Kevin Clinton said: “It is disappointing that people are still being killed and injured on our roads because telephone calls or text messages are deemed more important than someone's life. Our advice to drivers is clear: switch off your phone when you get behind the wheel and let voicemail do its job, and we urge employers to make this part of their road risk policy.”
Drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel face a £60 fine and three penalty points on their licence.
Free Driving for Work guides for employers are available to download from the RoSPA website, including one about mobile phones. Visit www.rospa.com/roadsafety/resources/employers.htm