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Mobile Phones (Road Deaths)

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 3 December 2009

8. What his most recent estimate is of the number of road traffic accident deaths which have been caused by driving while using a hand-held telephone in the past three years. (303671)

Contributory factor data reported in the statistical returns to the Department show that “driver using a mobile phone” was a factor in 19 deaths in road accidents during 2008—the returns do not distinguish between hand-held or hands-free phones. However, there has been no formal estimation of the numbers of deaths.

Frankly, I think this is an area in which the Government need to raise their game a bit. What action is the Minister taking in respect of the police, who seem very focused on motorists who abuse the speed limit but do not always seem to take seriously the issue of people driving with phones stuck to their ears, often as they go around dangerous corners? What more will the Government do?

Tackling distraction and excessive speeding is important if we are to ensure that the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads continues to decline. I should point out that there were 135,000 prosecutions and fixed penalties issued in 2007 for hand-held phone offences, those enforcement actions being undertaken by the law enforcement authorities—the police.

One of the most watched YouTube clips around the world this summer was a short film called “Cow”, which was commissioned by Gwent police and graphically illustrated to young people the dangers of texting while driving. If the Minister has not seen the film, will he do so? Does he agree that we could learn lessons from this hard-hitting, well-targeted campaign?

Most certainly. Invariably, getting the message across about the implications of certain actions in cars is fundamental. I congratulate Gwent police on what they have achieved, and we need to continue exactly that sort of work. The pre-driver programme that we are looking at for 14 to 16-year-olds will seek to change behaviour; we also recognise the importance of getting people to understand that once they are behind the wheel they are in control of a very important vehicle.

This summer, the Government spent £2.3 million on their controversial “spooky eyes” drug-driving campaign, suggesting that police officers can easily spot a person who has taken drugs. However, every day we see drivers openly using mobile phones, which is a much more obvious offence. Despite the tougher penalties, is the Minister concerned that drivers think they can get away with this dangerous behaviour unless they bump into another vehicle?

Both are important. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman drew attention to a hard-hitting anti-drugs campaign. Since its launch in August, we have had substantial feedback about its effect. Unfortunately, he clearly did not listen to the response that I gave to his Front-Bench colleague about the police undertaking the enforcement regime correctly and their rightly looking at both the distraction caused by mobile phones and speeding.