Calls for police powers to seize mobile phones used illegally by drivers

Mobile phones used illegally by drivers could be confiscated, a rank and file police leader has suggested.

Police Constable Jayne Willetts, the Police Federation of England and Wales' roads policing lead, said officers could seize mobiles or Sim cards as a deterrent.

One motoring group claimed such a "blunt and brutal" measure may be necessary to tackle the issue.

It is illegal to use a handheld phone while driving, with those falling foul of the rules facing penalty points and a fine.

Twenty-two people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents on Britain's roads in 2015 where a motorist using a mobile was a contributory factor.

Calls for efforts to curb the practice have intensified in recent months following high-profile cases and research indicating it is widespread.

Speaking at a roads policing conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, Pc Willetts said: "As technology is rapidly progressing, I fear our legislation is already behind the times.

"Is the seizure of mobile phones or their Sim cards - along with an education system - the way forward, combined with fines? I don't know, but it's a question worth asking."

Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, told the Press Association that losing their smartphone could be "a bigger deal" than regular punishments for some drivers.

He went on: "It would be a massive step to give police the power to mete out summary justice in this way.

"But with far too many people still flouting the law maybe it will take something as blunt and brutal as, 'you use it, you lose it', to get the message across."

Transport Minister Andrew Jones told the conference he wants to make using a phone behind the wheel "as socially unacceptable as drink-driving".

He said the Government will work with police forces and road safety groups to develop "a practical model for education" to ensure drivers are aware of the consequences of their actions.

More than 40 drivers were caught on their phones every hour during a police crackdown in November.

This week, constabularies around the country are running targeted operations, including patrols using unmarked vans, high vantage points and helmet cameras.

In October, lorry driver Tomasz Kroker was jailed for 10 years after killing a woman and three children by ploughing into their stationary car on the A34 near Newbury, Berkshire, while distracted by his phone.

Home Office data shows 16,900 drivers were handed fixed penalty notices for illegally using a phone in England and Wales in 2015, compared with 123,100 in 2011.

Motoring groups believe the decline is partly due to a 27% fall in the number of full-time dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales (excluding London) between 2010 and 2015.

Pc Willets said the number of officers has been reduced "almost to the point of being invisible".

The DfT is set to introduce legislation doubling the punishment for using a hand-held mobile while driving, with the fine rising from £100 to £200 and penalty points increasing from three to six.

Ministers have also set out proposals that will see tougher sentences for motorists who cause death while on a mobile phone.