Police have been hitting the highways in Suffolk and Norfolk targeting drivers who use their mobile phone behind the wheel.
Operation Ringtone, which launched on Monday and runs until Sunday (November 14-20), sees officers patrolling the roads with marked and unmarked cars and motorcycles, all fitted with cameras to obtain evidence to help secure successful prosecutions.
New unmarked motorcycles are being used to target drivers using mobiles in the most dangerous situations, particularly faster roads such as the A14 and A11.
The launch coincides with a week-long national campaign led by the National Police Chiefs Council, which encourages all forces in England and Wales to target the offence.
Chief Inspector Kris Barnard, head of the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing and Firearms Operations Unit, said the use of covert tactics enhanced enforcement efforts with this type of offence.
He said: “Modern cars are very safe and I think this can sometimes provide a false sense of security to some drivers who feel it is acceptable to take risks and use their phone.
“Often, when patrolling in marked vehicles people adapt their behaviour accordingly; the benefit of unmarked vehicles is that we will capture behaviour as it happens and on camera.
“All roads policing vehicles are fitted with cameras and the motorcyclists will be wearing head cameras to secure evidence and successful prosecutions.
“There’s certainly many drivers who feel it is acceptable to drive while using a mobile phone; in our day-to-day journeys we all witness it, momentary glances looking down at a phone or the more blatant offender seen holding and talking on their phone.
“The key thing to remember here is that while you’re behind the wheel you are in charge of, on average, a two-tonne machine, which can seriously injure and even kill people if you’re not in proper control.”
Last week, educational courses offered to first-time offenders for driving while using a mobile phone were withdrawn by Norfolk and Suffolk Police. This follows proposed changes going through Parliament which included recommending police forces to no longer offer the course.
Ch Insp Barnard added: “With the proposed changes in mind it makes sense to adopt this approach with immediate effect, supporting our aim of making this offence as socially unacceptable as drink-driving has become over the years.
“Drivers might not think a momentary glance at a text message is harming anyone, but think of what’s going on around you. Hazards on the road, especially when driving at speed, can change so quickly and in that moment if you’re not concentrating 100 per cent you could easily cause a crash, injure or kill someone else, or become a casualty yourself. Wrong place, wrong time, maybe, but think, is that text message really worth it?”
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, who attended checks carried out in Suffolk on Tuesday, said: “I was very pleased to see at first hand the enforcement being carried out by our roads policing unit in Ipswich.
“Despite all the publicity to stop people using their mobile phones when driving I am shocked at the number of drivers I see on their phones when I’m out and about across the county.
“I don’t know if these individuals think they are above the law, but I need to make it crystal clear, yet again, that using a mobile phone when driving can cause serious collisions, if not fatalities, and it is just not acceptable.
“With this change in approach, and no opportunity to take the awareness course, you are more likely to lose your licence if you’re caught and deservedly so.”
Cllr James Finch, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport and Chairman of the Suffolk Roadsafe Board, said: “Using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving is very dangerous. Not only are the penalties strict if you get caught, you also run the risk of causing serious injuries not only to yourself, but to other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians too.”