MORE than 26,000 motorists in the region have been caught out ignoring mobile phone laws – despite repeated warnings they are putting lives at risk.
Figures obtained by The Journal show that 26,452 drivers in the North-East and Cumbria have been fined for using their phones while driving since 2005.
Motoring safety groups yesterday condemned those who risked the lives of others by talking illegally while driving.
The figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that drivers in the Durham area are the worst offenders, with 3,943 motorists issued fines for using their mobiles in 2006, up from 3,174 the previous year. In Northumbria 3,238 drivers were caught last year, up from 2,193 in 2005.
There were also a total of 5,456 perpetrators in Cleveland and a further 3,280 in Cumbria.
Safe Speed For Life spokesman Jeremy Forsberg said: “There is no call that is worth someone’s life.”
Talking while driving without a hands-free kit became an offence in 2003, carrying a £30 fine. This was increased to £60 on February 28 this year, with offenders also picking up three-points on their license.
That means that those caught by the region’s police have handed over £952,800 in fines since 2005.
The shocking figures come just months after bank worker Rachel Begg killed grandmother Maureen Waites after crashing into the back of her car while she was texting.
The 19-year-old was sentenced to four years in a young offenders’ institute after she admitted causing death by dangerous driving.
Last year lorry driver Andrew Chrisp was jailed for three years after smashing into the back of teacher Zoe Carvin’s car while reading a text. The 42-year-old mother-of-two died at the scene.
Yesterday Mr Forsberg said all those who used their phones illegally were endangering their own, and other people’s, lives.
He said: “It is absolutely disgraceful how many people are still using their phones when driving.
“It’s illegal, it’s dangerous, it’s stupid and there is absolutely no reason to do it.”
A spokeswoman for road safety charity Brake said: “It’s extremely concerning that so many drivers are willing to put their lives and put other people in danger for the sake of a phone call.”
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Call of death shatters families
ACCIDENTS caused by drivers using their mobiles have devastated scores of North-East families.
Earlier this year, grandmother Maureen Waites died after being crashed into by teenager Rachel Begg as she drove to the airport to pick up a relative. The 19-year-old ploughed into Mrs Waites’ Citroen at 70mph while reading a mobile phone text message. The former bank clerk, of Whinbank in Ponteland, was sent to a young offenders’ institute for four years after admitting death by dangerous driving.
Last year lorry driver Andrew Chrisp was jailed for three years after ploughing into the back of a line of traffic on the A1 as he read a text message. The 26-year-old, who did not have a licence to drive the seven-and-a-half tonne truck, slammed one car into the opposite lane before ramming into a Skoda carrying mother-of-two Zoe Carvin at 60mph. The 42-year-old, a teacher at Eglingham First School, near Alnwick, died at the scene. Her husband Paul is now bringing up their children Ben, 13, and 12-year-old Emily alone.
In June 2004, a North-East van driver became the first in Britain to be charged with causing death by dangerous driving while using a phone.
Alan Milbanke (corr) killed 68-year-old Derek Davies, of Shotley Bridge in County Durham, when he crashed into him as he spoke on his mobile phone.
The 32-year-old from Wallsend was jailed for three years after the smash on the B6278 near Snods Edge, close to Hexham in Northumberland.