Campaign to tackle ‘quite alarming’ motorway driving by motorists on mobiles

A driver on his mobile phone veering on and off a motorway hard shoulder – narrowly avoiding a collision with another lorry – was among thousands of offences spotted in a dangerous driving crackdown.

The driver on the M40 did not realise he almost hit an unmarked “supercab”, which has an elevated viewpoint to help spot dangerous driving, and had two Warwickshire Police officers inside.

Highways England (HE), which is leading a week-long campaign aimed at reducing motorway incidents and highlighting the risks of dangerous driving, said the incident was among more than 21,600 offences recorded by officers in HGV cabs since 2015.

The cabs are being used in Operation Vertebrae, taking place along the M6 from May 24 to 30.

This driver was caught on film texting on his phone (Highways England/PA)
This driver was caught on film texting on his phone (Highways England/PA)

The police forces taking part in Operation Vertebrae include Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Warwickshire, along with the Central Motorway Police Group and the North West Commercial Vehicle Unit.

HE’s head of road safety, Jeremy Phillips, said the number of people using a phone while driving was “quite alarming” as they are “four times more likely to be in a crash” and could face a £200 fine and six points on their licence.

The M6 campaign aims to “make all of our roads safer by raising awareness and encouraging motorists to consider their driving behaviour”, he said.

Using a mobile phone, not wearing a seatbelt, not being in proper control of the vehicle and speeding are among the most common offences spotted from the supercabs since 2015.

This is when they started to be used to patrol motorways and major A roads in an ongoing campaign called Operation Tramline.

Other incidents on the M40 included a lorry driver looking down and texting. He simply shrugged and put his thumb up when he eventually spotted the police officers, HE said.

At the time this was happening a car driver, oblivious to the officers in the HGV cab alongside him, had a mobile phone in his right hand.

The Operation Tramline ‘supercab’ (Highways England/PA)
The Operation Tramline ‘supercab’ (Highways England/PA)

It was only when he heard the police siren that he put the phone down.

A driver in the East Midlands was caught steering a lorry with his knees while eating lunch on his lap and using his phone.

West Mercia officers saw a driver eating lasagne with a knife and fork while driving along a motorway.

Surrey Police spotted an HGV driver boiling a kettle on the dashboard and another eating pickled gherkins from a jar with his elbows on the steering wheel.

Officials working on Operation Vertebrae will offer advice at motorway services to drivers on issues such as what to do in a breakdown and ensuring load safety.

Vehicle checks will be carried out involving the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Home Office.

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said tackling people who take unnecessary risks by allowing themselves to be distracted while driving is important because “the consequences of these actions are often devastating”.