Drivers distracted by their phones could cause more deaths on UK roads than drink drivers by 2015, claims in-car camera manufacturer SmartWitness. Statistics from the Department for Transport show that 378 accidents involving mobile phone use were reported in 2012 – a record high.
These crashes resulted in 548 casualties – including 17 deaths. However, SmartWitness claims that this figure may not show the whole picture. Many accidents due to mobile phone use are classified as “in-vehicle distraction”; crashes due to in-vehicle distraction accounted for 9,012 accidents and 196 deaths between 2010 and 2012.
Accidents due to phone use and in-vehicle distraction resulted in a substantial 213 deaths over this period; just 27 less than were caused by drink driving. With drink driving deaths declining, according to SmartWitness mobile phone distraction is expected to become the biggest killer on UK roads by 2015.
“We believe a large number of serious and fatal accidents are wrongly classed as 'in-vehicle distraction' when the specific cause of the accident was down to mobile phone use.”
A study by the Transport Research Laboratory also found that using a mobile phone behind the wheel cuts drivers’ reaction times by over three times more than alcohol for someone at the drink drive limit.
Consequently, Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin mooted increasing punishments for those caught using a phone behind the wheel last week – with offenders potentially receiving six points on their licence. Fines could increase too.
“Driver distraction due to mobiles will soon be the biggest single cause of death on the roads," said Simon Marsh, managing director of SmartWitness.
He continued: “We believe a large number of serious and fatal accidents are wrongly classed as 'in-vehicle distraction' when the specific cause of the accident was down to mobile phone use.”
Figures from 2012 show that 583,686 drivers received three points on their licence and a £60 fine for mobile phone use at the wheel – more than 10 times higher than the number of convictions for drink driving that year. Those aged 18-25 were most likely to be caught using a mobile while driving. Recent research shows that the number of drivers driving while on the phone more than doubled between 2009 and 2012.
Marsh continued: “The only real deterrent is a one-year ban from driving for anyone caught texting at the wheel. It’s clear that the current legislation isn’t working and an increase to six points for mobile offenders will not be enough to stop the death toll.”
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