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Roads minister Hazzard getting tough on drivers using phones in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Roads Minister Chris Hazzard is considering tougher penalties for drivers caught using a mobile phone at the wheel.

Mr Hazzard said he wanted a more effective deterrent to the practice.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed how more than 40,000 drivers have been caught using their mobile phone at the wheel in the last five years.

Police are catching 22 offenders every day — despite repeated warnings about the dangers.

It comes after a man was jailed for killing a pensioner after crashing while browsing Gumtree on his phone.

Mr Hazzard said: “I am very aware that too many drivers continue to flout the laws on using a mobile phone when driving. 

“I intend to consult in 2017 on proposals to create a more effective deterrent. I will also continue to encourage drivers through road safety campaigns to do the right thing and prompt them to question their decision in using a mobile phone.”

Drivers are currently given three penalty points and a £60 fine for using a phone at the wheel.

Figures obtained by this newspaper show police made 41,013 detections for mobile phone use while driving from January 2011 to December 2015.

Mobile phones were directly to blame for 37 accidents in which someone was injured.

Two people were killed and 11 others suffered a serious injury.

Proposals announced last month by the Westminster government could see drivers who cause death by dangerous or careless driving get life in prison.

Motorists who cause death while on a mobile phone are among those who could face longer sentences.

In September it was announced drivers caught using mobile phones in Britain would be hit with double fines (£200) and points (six).

In October, 21-year-old Edward Devlin, from the Leitrim Road, Hilltown, pleaded guilty to causing the death of 66-year-old Leonard Bailie by driving dangerously near Lisburn in 2014.

Investigators found Devlin’s mobile had been used to send a text message and for “web browsing” during his journey.

He later confessed that up until the time of the collision, he had been browsing Gumtree “to look at lists of cars”.

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