VOTE: Should drivers caught using their phones face an automatic ban? 

HUNDREDS of drivers have been caught risking lives by using mobiles on Oxfordshire’s roads – despite tougher new laws coming into effect last spring.

The Oxford Mail can reveal that nearly 500 motorists were caught using a mobile phone while driving in the county between March 1, when the heavier restrictions came into play, and December 18 – with campaigners warning the figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

The penalty for driving while using a mobile device was changed from three penalty points and a £100 fine to six points and a £200 fine.

Across the Thames Valley during the same period, the number of motorists caught was 2,030, while in Oxford the figure was nearly 150.

The number of drivers caught out on their mobiles in Botley Road between March 1 and December 18 was 46, making up a third of such offences in the city.

In total, 480 people in Oxfordshire were caught.

James Pratley, of Queen Emma’s Dyke, Witney, launched a campaign against mobile phone use at the wheel in 1998 after his Rover was hit by another car driven by a man using a mobile.

The dad wrote to MPs, including Jack Straw and David Cameron, for many years, warning that a major tragedy would take place involving a distracted lorry driver

He said: “I don’t think it’s good enough – if they’re catching this many it isn’t working.

“If they weren’t cutting back on police so much I think the number would be much higher. I still see it every day.

“When I’m out on the road, and having done this for as long as I have, I notice people.

"It used to be you’d see the mobile up to the ear – now, 95 per cent of them are looking down with one hand on the wheel and one on their lap.

“It should be nine points and a £1,000 fine – that’s the next step, or even an instant three-month ban.

"It’s got to be something higher because it’s not working.”

Mr Pratley said lives will continue to be lost unless a genuine deterrent is put in place.

His belief in a major tragedy involving a lorry driver was borne out in 2016 when Tomasz Kroker, distracted by his phone, killed four people on the A34.

Another tragedy with a link to mobile phone-use occurred in Mr Pratley’s own town.

Liberty Baker, 14, was killed while walking to school in 2014 when she was hit by a car driven by Robert Blackwell, who had received a text message just moments earlier.

Oxford city councillor and taxi driver, Saj Malik, agreed the exclusive figures were just the tip of the iceberg, saying he had noticed no substantial change since the change in law.

He said: “Whenever you’re in traffic you can look left, look right, and you’ll see people texting or what have you.

“When I drive around Oxford I see the same level of it that I saw before.

"Between 5pm and 7pm on Botley Road you’ll see quite a few people sitting in traffic on their phones.

"This can cost lives."

Mr Malik said he thought hitting people in their wallets, with £1,000 fines or more, was a good solution – though also noted that education could play a big part.

He said a six point penalty was acceptable, but suggested drivers caught more than once should be slapped with an instant ban.

Thames Valley and Hampshire's joint roads policing unit has this week been targeting drivers using mobiles this week, with the aim of drawing attention to the risks posed by being distracted while in control of a vehicle.

The enforcement activity began on Monday and will run until Sunday, in line with the National Police Chief Council's campaign.

Road safety Sergeant Chris Appleby, from the unit, said: "We are still seeing too many people deciding to take that risk to use their mobile phone whilst driving, whether looking at a text, making and receiving calls or even surfing the internet.

"Doing any of these will clearly impair and distract your ability to drive a vehicle safely."

Drivers are four times more likely to crash if they use a mobile phone while driving.

They are also twice as likely to be involved in a fatal collision texting as they are drink driving