DRIVERS in South Tyneside are still putting lives at risk by flouting the law on using mobile phones at the wheel.
New figures show that an average of at least one motorist a day is stopped by police for using their phone while driving on the borough’s roads.
This is despite the ban being introduced in December 2003.
Bosses at the road safety charity Brake have blasted the figures and say more tougher penalties are needed for motorists who risk their own lives – and those of others – by using their phones at the wheel.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal 362 drivers were stopped by police in the borough between April 1, 2011, and March 31 this year – the latest available figures. Of those, 52 received a summons to attend court, 280 were given a fixed penalty notice, 23 were sent an advice letter, five were charged along with other driving offences and, in two, no further action was deemed necessary.
These figures were up from the previous year when 317 motorists were dealt with.
A total of 43 were summonsed to court, 18 were sent advice letters, two were charged along with other driving offences, 253 were given a fixed penalty notice and in one case police took no further action.
The youngest person to be stopped driving whilst using a mobile phone was 17 whilst the oldest was 79.
Anyone caught using a hand-held phone while driving is liable to a £60 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on their licence. If the case goes to court, the driver faces disqualification and a maximum fine of £1,000.
Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.
Martin Howard, from road safety charity Brake said: “Using a hand-held or even hands free phone while driving is hugely distracting and increases the risk of crashing, with potentially devastating consequences.
“We urge drivers to keep their phones switched off and out of reach while driving to ensure their full attention is on the road.”
He added:“Brake is also calling on the Government to do more to tackle distraction at the wheel, including banning hands-free phones and increasing penalties for drivers who risk lives by using their phones at the wheel.”
Chief Inspector Sarah Pitt, of Northumbria Police, said: “Research shows that using a mobile phone while driving means you are four times more likely to crash.
“As well as being against the law, using a mobile phone while driving can have devastating consequences. It is vital motorists are in proper control of their vehicles at all times.”
South Tyneside councillor, Coun Ernest Gibson said: “Drivers are not only risking their own life but those of other motorists and pedestrians.
“I have also seen cars passing where people have been driving whilst on their mobile phone and they’ve had children in the cars with them.”
The councillor for Whiteleas added: “The ban on using mobile phones while driving is not a new thing, yet even with all the coverage and news of people losing their lives because of drivers ignoring this ban, I just find it unbelievable the figures have risen rather than fallen.”