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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

Avon and Somerset Police take high level approach to targeting distracted drivers

• A motorist holding two mobile phones – one to each ear – as he drove along the M4 motorway in a 44 tonne articulated lorry
• A vehicle weighing 3.5 tonnes illegally towing a trailer in lane three of the M5 motorway at excessive speed
• Another motorist holding a mobile phone, with their right little finger touching the bottom of the steering wheel and their other hand nowhere near the wheel, on the M4 motorway

These were just some of the offences captured on camera by Avon and Somerset Police during Op Tramline last week. Using a large goods vehicle (LGV) tractor cab on loan from Highways England, roads policing officers were able to gain an elevated view of behaviour inside lorries, vans and cars.

Officers checked 409 drivers on roads across Avon and Somerset including the M5, M4 and A303. Of these, a quarter (104) were found to be committing driving offences including:
• 51 not wearing a seatbelt
• 11 illegally using a mobile phone whilst driving
• seven speeding
• six not in proper control of their vehicle
• five driving without due care and attention
• two driving carelessly and inconsiderately

In response Avon and Somerset Police:
• summonsed four drivers to court
• issued 72 Traffic Offence Reports (TORs)
• gave words of advice to 15 drivers

With one roads policing officer driving and a second officer sitting alongside, offences were captured on video. The offending vehicle was then reported to a supporting policing unit which intercepted, indicated for it to pull over and dealt with offences.

Avon and Somerset Police will continue Op Tramline across the year, in support of their everyday work to keep the roads across the region safer.

The week’s activities were carried out as the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) launched a three-week campaign to highlight the dangers of driver distractions – including mobile devices such as phones, ‘sat navs’ and tablets – and to crack down on offenders.

Driver distractions is one of the ‘Fatal Five’ main causes of serious injuries and death on the roads, alongside driving under the influence of drink or drugs, excess or inappropriate speeds, the failure to wear seatbelts and careless or inconsiderate driving.

The most recent RAC Report on Motoring 2020 (based on research undertaken in July and August last year) found that a growing number of motorists (29%) admitted to making or receiving calls on a handheld mobile phone (up from 24% in 2019), whilst almost one-in-five drivers aged 17-24 admit to taking part in video calls while behind the wheel.

Chief Inspector Jason Shears, Roads Policing Lead for Avon and Somerset Police, said: “Driving whilst distracted is every bit as unacceptable as drink driving and just as likely to be fatal. Research has shown that drivers using a phone – handheld or hands free – are four times more likely to be involved in a collision and their driving is also impaired to a degree similar to that of a drink driver.

“Distraction driving is a top concern for motorists and we are committed to tackling it. Fortunately, we have the majority of the public behind us, many of whom are submitting footage of offences to us via our website. This means that anyone could be capturing evidence of offending that could be used to prosecute a phone-using or otherwise distracted driver, so the chances of being caught are now much higher.

“Safety on the roads of Avon and Somerset is our road policing unit’s absolute priority and we will not hesitate to use every option open to us, including the deployment of a range of unmarked vehicles, to tackle dangerous and anti-social driving habits.”

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I am fully supportive of Op Tramline and the targeting of offenders whose actions are putting lives at risk. The offences captured by Avon and Somerset Police’s Road Policing Unit are appalling, unacceptable and dangerous.

“The minority who use mobile phones and tablets or become distracted by sat navs are not just putting themselves in danger but others around them. We all know the risks when looking away from the road to change music or to check text messages, and the solution is simple; do not take the risk and instead keep focused. If you are caught looking at your phone or tablet while driving, you will be prosecuted.”

Beverley Hannah, Highways England’s South West Safety Co-ordinator, said: “The vast majority of drivers who use our roads every day behave responsibly behind the wheel, but there are some who are putting themselves and others at risk by simply ignoring the law.

“That is why we introduced the three super cabs, and we are working with our police partners across the country to tackle dangerous driving such as illegally using mobile phones, or not wearing seatbelts. We hope this operation will encourage all motorists to think about their driving.”

What you need to know:
• The only legal way to use a mobile phone is hands free: the only legal and safe way to use a mobile phone is not at all
• Your device must not block your view of the road or traffic ahead
• You must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times
• Police can stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted. You can be prosecuted
• The law still applies to you if you’re:
o stopped at traffic lights
o queuing in traffic
o supervising a learner driver

What you risk:
• Using a mobile phone illegally carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine
• If a new driver (someone who has held a licence for less than two years) is caught using a hand-held device behind the wheel, they will lose their licence
• You can get three penalty points if you don’t have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle
• If the police feel they have seen an extreme example of using a mobile phone behind the wheel, the driver could be taken to court and:
• be banned from driving
• get a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you’re driving a lorry or bus)
• Motorists involved in a collision caused by using a hand-held device behind the wheel face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

What you can do:
• Switch your phone off completely whilst driving
• Download and use an App that blocks calls – you can also send a message to any callers that you are driving, and relax in the knowledge that the vast majority of people support not using a mobile phone whilst driving
• Use a mobile phone blocking pouch
• Put your phone away in the glove compartment or boot
• Never consider drive-time as an opportunity to catch up on emails or social media or have a chat with friends and family
• Follow the conversation #StandingUpForHangingUp on social media and make a public pledge not to use a phone while driving

Motorists seen driving dangerously or causing concern can be reported immediately by calling 999 (101 for non-emergency). Dashcam, mobile phone or other on-board camera footage capturing road related offences can be uploaded at www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/roads.