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London - Drivers who use a mobile at the wheel should be given an automatic ban, campaigners said – after research showed it slows reactions more than drink or drugs.
A study found that sending a text message delays reaction times by 37 percent. By comparison, using cannabis slows it by 21 percent, and drinking to the legal limit by 13 percent.
Speaking on a hand-held telephone remains the most dangerous, delaying reaction by 46 percent, the Transport Research Laboratory found.
Using a mobile carries a £100 (R1800) fine in the UK and three penalty points. But Robert Goodwill, the road safety minister, said he was considering making a case to the Ministry of Justice for imposing tougher punishments, adding: “I will see if we need to change the penalties.”
He also called on police to increase their action on the menace. He said: “The best deterrent for this kind of dangerous behaviour is the certainty of being detected.”
CALL FOR INSTANT BAN
Campaigners – including the Alliance of British Drivers – are now calling for the penalty to be raised to match the drink-driving punishment, which is an automatic year’s ban and a fine.
Using a mobile at the wheel has been illegal for a decade, with the fine initially standing at £30.
In 2007 the punishment was increased to three penalty points and a £60 fine, and last year it went up to £100, with a possible £1000 (R18 000) on conviction in court.
Smartphones are now owned by nearly three-quarters of adults, with emails, social networking and maps all adding to the temptation to use them.
Department for Transport figures show that a record 378 accidents involving a mobile phone were reported in 2012, causing 548 injuries and 17 deaths.
But, conversely, there has been a reduction in the number of drivers caught for the offence – which the AA believes is down to a 20 percent reduction in dedicated traffic police officers over the last decade. Between May 2012 and August 2013 the number of drivers with points on their licence for using a mobile phone fell by 14 percent, from 677 500 to 583 700.
Edmund King, president of the AA, told the Sunday Times: “It hasn’t been a priority. We need to send out a warning to drivers that the police forces will have a dedicated crackdown. They need to pull over ... every single driver seen with a phone.”
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said they are determined to “crack down” on people using a phone at the wheel, and are monitoring the effectiveness of the £100 fine.