Pensioner, 76, among Sunderland mobile phone driving pests

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A 76-YEAR-OLD driver was among scores of motorists caught using their phone behind the wheel new figures reveal.

Between April 1, 2011, and March 31 this year, more than 100 drivers were stopped by the police for using their mobiles while driving around Sunderland.

This is despite a ban on using phones at the wheel being introduced in December 2003.

The 76-year-old was the oldest lawbreaker, while the youngest were two 19-year-olds. The majority ranged from 21 to 39.

Figures obtained by the Echo under the Freedom of Information Act revealed 104 drivers were stopped by police. Of those, 80 received a summons to attend court, four were given a fixed penalty ticket, 17 were sent an advice letter, one accepted a caution and no further action was taken against two.

Bosses at road safety charity Brake have called for mobile-using motorists who put their own and others’ lives at risk to be hit with tougher penalties.

But the figures show the number of potentially deadly drivers are falling.

In 2009, a month-long operation in Sunderland by Northumbria Police saw mobile safety camera vans catch 54 mobile phone offences.

Police cameras recorded 108 offences, including two outside schools, during a week-long operation in 2008.

Northumbria Police and the Northumbria Safer Roads Initiative teamed up to crack down on drivers breaking traffic laws by putting patrols in accident blackspots across the force area.

Springwell Road and St Luke’s Road in Sunderland were targeted as part of the operation.

Officers were specifically looking to catch those who use their mobile phones while driving.

Anyone caught using a hand-held phone while driving is liable to a £60 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on their licence.

If the case goes to court, the driver faces disqualification and a maximum fine of £1,000.

Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.

Martin Howard, from Brake said: “Using a hand-held or even hands free phone while driving is hugely distracting and increases the risk of crashing, with potentially devastating consequences.

“We urge drivers to keep their phones switched off and out of reach while driving, to ensure their full attention is on the road.”

He added: “Brake is also calling on the Government to do more to tackle distraction at the wheel, including banning hands-free phones and increasing penalties for drivers who risk lives by using their phones at the wheel.”

Chief Inspector Sarah Pitt, of Northumbria Police, said: “Research shows that using a mobile phone while driving means you are four times more likely to crash.

“As well as being against the law, using a mobile phone while driving can have devastating consequences. It is vital motorists are in proper control of their vehicles at all times.”

Twitter: @janethejourno