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15,000 Northern Ireland motorists caught using mobile phone in three years

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Almost 15,000 motorists were caught using a mobile phone while at the wheel in Northern Ireland in a three-year period. (Chris Radburn/PA)

Almost 15,000 motorists were caught using a mobile phone while at the wheel in Northern Ireland in a three-year period. (Chris Radburn/PA)

Almost 15,000 motorists were caught using a mobile phone while at the wheel in Northern Ireland in a three-year period. (Chris Radburn/PA)

Almost 15,000 motorists were caught using a mobile phone while at the wheel in Northern Ireland in a three-year period.

Drivers continue to break the law at an alarming rate despite repeated warnings about the consequences, figures reveal.

It comes as Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said she is considering tougher punishment for offenders. The current penalty is half that imposed elsewhere in the UK.

Last year a government survey found that more than half of drivers here have admitted using a mobile while at the wheel.

According to new PSNI statistics, obtained by the Belfast Telegraph, a total of 14,664 offences were recorded in the three years to last April - 13 a day on average.

The youngest caught was just 15, even though the legal age to drive is 17. The oldest was 84.

Policing Board member John Blair said: "These figures are shocking and I will be raising this at the next board meeting."

A breakdown of offences shows the highest number (2,348) were recorded in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon policing area.

A further 2,039 took place in the Belfast area, and 1,857 in the Derry and Strabane area.

Men were twice as likely to be caught - 9,854 of those caught were males, compared to 4,810 females.

Mr Blair added: "I have seen this every day, in my own community, for 10 years or more.

"It is extremely dangerous and the consequences if someone has an accident are quite horrific.

"I have raised it with the Police and Community Safety Partnership and with the Policing Board, and I will raise it again."

A spokesperson for road safety charity Brake said: "It is shocking to see so many drivers caught illegally using their phone behind the wheel despite the danger this behaviour poses.

"It only takes a split second's inattention when driving to cause absolute devastation.

"We urge all drivers to keep their eyes on the road and put their mobile phones on silent and out of reach when driving."

Motorists who use a mobile phone while driving, are four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves or other people PSNI spokesperson

Last March a Department for Infrastructure survey found over half of drivers in Northern Ireland have used their mobile phone behind the wheel.

Of the 2,805 adults questioned, 52% confessed to using their phone in some capacity while driving.

Currently, motorists caught using a phone while driving face a £60 fine and three penalty points.

Since March 2017 offenders in England, Scotland and Wales receive a £200 fine and six penalty points.

In 2018 DfI undertook a consultation on stiffer penalties for offenders here.

The results were published last summer and, of the 337 responses, 89% supported an increase.

Responding to an Assembly question from Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw on the matter, Ms Mallon said she was considering raising the penalty.

"As minister responsible for promoting and improving road safety I am determined to reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries," she said.

"Key to this is taking care when driving and showing concern for other road users.

"I plan to consider this issue carefully in the coming weeks, before taking a decision on the way forward."

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Detecting people using their mobile phones whilst driving remains a key element of our Road Safety Strategy and is something we continue to focus on.

"Drivers are reminded that not only are there serious risks by being distracted by mobile devices whilst in control of a vehicle, but also there are penalties and consequences to face for breaking the law.

"Motorists who use a mobile phone while driving, are four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves or other people. Anyone who uses a mobile phone whilst driving is putting themselves and others at risk, which is why police remain committed to addressing this dangerous activity.

"Absolutely nothing on your mobile device or social media accounts should come before your safety and the safety of others.

"Police will continue to focus on robustly enforcing the law to make our roads safer."

What the law actually states

The law says it is illegal to drive a vehicle or ride a motorbike while using a hand-held mobile phone or a similar device like a BlackBerry. It is also illegal to use a hand-held phone when supervising a learner driver or rider.

Drivers also risk prosecution for not having proper control of a vehicle when using a hands-free phone.

Hand-held devices should not be used when stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

An employer can be prosecuted if they ask employees to make or receive calls while driving.

Those caught using a hand-held mobile phone or similar device while driving or riding will get an automatic fixed penalty notice of three penalty points and a fine of £60.

Belfast Telegraph