A total of 66 crashes have been caused on Lancashire’s roads in the past five years by motorists either making a call or texting at the wheel.
Officers say a split second’s loss of concentration could have fatal consequences. And, in an attempt to highlight the dangerous practice, the county’s constabulary has lifted the lid on the sorts of reasons drivers have given when stopped.
“I wasn’t using my phone, I was checking a text,” was one driver’s response after being caught. Another said: “I wasn’t on the phone, I was just holding it.”
And one man pulled over at a checkpoint in the county was talking to his dad – who had rung to warn him after he had been caught himself moments earlier. “Yes dad, I’m with them now,” he was heard to say.
“We regularly catch people using a hand-held mobile phone while driving,” said a Lancashire Police spokesman.
“It only takes a few seconds distraction from a mobile to cause a collision, which can have fatal consequences. If we are to reduce the number of fatalities and casualties on the county’s roads it is vital people comply with the law.” One driver, a lecturer from Kirkham, admitted to still being “freaked out” when he thinks of what could have happened the day he hit a chunk of wood in the road and crashed his car while on the phone.
“I always used to be on the phone to the wife or friends on the way home from work, thinking it was a good time to sort out the social life,” confessed 39-year-old Colin Lowe.
“But I hit a chunk of wood from the trees on the Kirkham bypass and ended up over the kerb and into a bush.
“It frightens me to this day when I think what I hit. It could have been anything. I didn’t see it and it was a lump of static wood. If it was someone – a child – crossing that road at that speed, they’d have had no chance whatsoever.
“It took days for me to get over the fright. And it cost me hundreds of pounds to fix the car.
“I don’t use my phone in the car at all now, it still freaks me out to think that momentary glance to grab it, and someone could end up dead.”
One such lapse in concentration by a motorist ended in the death of Preston cyclist Paul Fingleton, 47, at the Broughton roundabout.
Former racing driver Frank Wrathall, 27, from Barnacre, near Garstang was on the phone to his girlfriend when his car collided with Mr Fingleton as he cycled home to Fulwood. He was jailed for 21 months for causing death by careless driving.
It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving or while stopped with the engine on, meaning drivers who check their device while stopped at traffic lights are still breaking the law.
Anyone caught faces a £100 fine and three points on their licence. There are moves to increase those penalties this year.
Drivers can end up in court if they fail to pay or if police decide the offence is more serious.
Court-imposed fines can be as high as £1,000 – or £2,500 for larger vehicles like buses – and in more serious cases drivers can be charged with careless or dangerous driving.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “There is no excuse for ever using a mobile phone while driving. Drivers who use a mobile phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them, fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed and react more slowly, taking longer to stop.
“Using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of crashing and injuring or killing innocent people.
“Sadly, it being illegal to do so, many people still use a mobile phone behind the wheel, and do not consider the consequences of what could happen.”