'Get tough on mobile phone drivers'
RoSPA demands abuse penalties are increased in Ulster too
An Ulster safety organisation today demanded a zero tolerance approach to drivers who flout the law by using mobile phones.
While drivers in England and Wales will face tough new penalties for using hand-held mobiles while at the wheel from today, the legislation does not yet extend to Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the legislation is currently being processed by the Government and is expected to be in place in Northern Ireland in spring.
However, he said an exact date stating when the tougher enforcement powers will become available to the PSNI is unknown.
From today in England and Wales, the fixed penalty fine for offenders will double from £30 to £60 and those caught using hand held mobiles will get three penalty points on their licence.
Courts will have the powers to give a maximum fine of £1,000 or £2,500 in the case of a driver of a bus, coach or goods vehicle. Offenders could even be disqualified from driving.
Research shows that if you are using a mobile phone while driving you are four times more likely to crash.
The ban on the use of hand-held mobiles while driving was introduced in December 2003 but figures show that while more than 90% of people agree with the law, about 20% of drivers admit to breaking it.
It is hoped stiffer penalties will act as a greater deterrent.
However, manager of the Northern Ireland branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Janice Bisp, said tougher penalties are only a step in the right direction to tackling the number of accidents on Ulster's roads.
She said: "The sooner these laws are extended to Northern Ireland the better. There have been some fairly high profile serious accidents where drivers were using their mobile phones and you would think that would act as a deterrent - but clearly the message is still not getting across.
"RoSPA's position on this matter is very clear. We don't think people should have mobile phones, either hand-held or hands-free because the result of research does not differentiate.
"It shows that if you are using a mobile phone, you are much more likely to have an accident, so I think that although we welcome any legislation like this, we would like to see the use of mobile phones by drivers to be completely outlawed."