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Prison warning to drivers using mobiles

By Victoria O'Hara

New legal guidelines that could result in motorists being jailed for up to two years if caught using a mobile phone in England will be considered by prosecutors in Northern Ireland.

The maximum penalty a driver in Northern Ireland currently faces if caught handling a mobile phone is three penalty points and a fine of up to £2,500.

However the Crown Prosecution Service in England have issued new guidelines after public concern was raised that too many drivers were ignoring the law.

The majority of drivers in England still face the penalty of a fine and points. However, if the driving is unsafe prosecutors can press charges of dangerous driving which carries a maximum two-year sentence.

The ban on using a hand-held mobile phone while driving was introduced in Northern Ireland in February 2004.

Police detections in 2006 and fixed penalty notices issued for the misuse of mobile phones in Northern Ireland were 19,074.

New findings by the Transport Research Laboratory have suggested that talking on the phone while driving could be more dangerous than drink-driving.

According to the research a driver on the phone is more distracted than one who has drunk up to the legal alcohol limit.

A DoE spokesman said the Crown Prosecution Service in Great Britain issued a consultation document seeking views on a range of proposals including a proposal to address the use of mobile phones by drivers.

The spokesman said: "The document stated 'Public concern about the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone means that a charge of dangerous driving will now be the starting point for this offence, where there is clear evidence that danger has been caused by its use'.

"The DoE understands that following the consultation the Crown Prosecution Service will shortly issue guidelines which will be considered by the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland."

A spokesman for the PPS said: "The PPS will consider guidance issued by the CPS on this topic."

"The law in Northern Ireland provides for a range of offences which may be committed by road users, including the specific offence of lifting a mobile phone and offences of careless and dangerous driving. Each case is considered on its merits."

One of the UK's biggest transport companies, FirstGroup, has announced that none of its employees will be allowed to use hands-free mobiles.

In Northern Ireland Stephen McCausland, director of Northern Ireland company Value Cab, said they have a strict policy about the use of mobile phones.

"All drivers that work for us - there are now over 600 - work within driver guidelines, one of which stipulates that mobile phones should not be used in the car while a customer is in the car, even with hands-free."

However, Mr McCausland said problems exist on the province's roads and a jail threat would be a good deterrent.

"I see no decrease of drivers using mobiles and I think it is totally down to enforcement.

"A possible jail sentence would absolutely work as a deterrent."

A Translink spokesperson said their strict policy prohibits the use of mobile phones by bus drivers whilst driving.

"The safety of our passengers and staff are our first priority and to this end we would encourage members of the public to contact us directly over any misuse of mobile phones by our drivers."

Belfast Telegraph


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