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Stronger mobile phone use penalties 'having an effect' #DRIVETALKING.

TRAFFIC cops believe changes to the law - which land drivers with six points and a PS200 fine for using their phones behind the wheel - are starting to have an effect.

Joining officers on Operation Tramline, which uses an unmarked HGV to catch offenders in the act, we got to see some of the efforts to tackle the problem first-hand - and they revealed they'd caught nearly half as many drivers this year than when the same operation was run 12 months ago.

As PC Dave Blake, a Hampshire Constabulary policeman who specialises in commercial vehicles and has a licence to drive an HGV, explains: "The new fine and increased points is definitely working. Previously, when we have run this operation, we would catch around 40-60 drivers a day - around 250 in a week.

"This time we are catching around 15-20 a day. That's a big drop, and I think it's definitely to do with the change in law and larger penalties."

In a special HGV - loaned to police forces around the UK by Highways England - Hampshire officers hit the roads, along with three unmarked police cars and a marked police bike, during the launch week of a country-wide crackdown on mobile use behind the wheel.

Patrolling the M27, M3, A34 and M4, sitting high above the traffic in the truck, PC Blake and special inspector Dan Bell have a useful vantage point that allows them to look down into the surrounding cars.

"In slow-moving traffic like this, we like to drive in the middle lane so we can look down on either side of the truck," says PC Blake. And it works - within a matter of minutes, the team are calling for back-up from the following officers that are swarming around the HGV like worker bees.

PC Phil Robertson, riding the marked police bike, shoots past us and closes in on the driver spotted holding their phone in their left hand.

He pulls right up alongside the offender and has time to tap on the window while the driver is still busy texting, oblivious to the policeman peering in. He's quickly pulled over and handed a fixed penalty notice.

"People are more sneaky when they use their phone behind the wheel these days, often holding it out of sight, but we can still tell they're using it," says PC Robertson.

Back in the PS70,000 truck, PC Blake is keeping a sharp eye out for other drivers breaking the law. Not only does the truck give the team a great view down into cars, it also allows them to look directly into the cabs of other HGVs they pass.

"Generally, truck drivers are well behaved, as most firms now instantly dismiss for mobile phone offences and often have dash cams pointing at their drivers to keep an eye on them," he notes. But as he's saying that, we pass a Romanianregistered car transporter and the driver has his mobile clamped to his left ear.

After a day on the road, the Operation Tramline team have caught 16 drivers - a dramatic drop on the numbers they caught a year ago.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said it believed it was too early to tell conclusively whether the higher penalties were working, but added it was working closely with partners to evaluate if it was. However, the evidence from this year's Operation Tramline is certainly pointing towards the fact it is.

JAMES BAGGOTT

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Publication:Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)
Date:Feb 16, 2018
Words:573
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