Thames Valley Police roll out new technology that detects when drivers are using hand-held mobiles behind the wheel

The device that detects mobile phone use in action
The device that detects mobile phone use in action

Thames Valley Police is to be the first force in the UK to use new technology that detects when drivers are using a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel.

The equipment can detect how many cars on a particular stretch of road are using their phones without a hands free kit.

Billboards promoting Thames Valley Police's It's Not Worth the Risk campaign

Billboards promoting Thames Valley Police's It's Not Worth the Risk campaign

It will help officers in the Thames Valley target areas where mobile phone use is prevalent and when an individual using their phone is detected the device will flash a mobile phone symbol at the car, advising them to stop using their mobile.

The technology can detect when Bluetooth is being used but cannot detect if a passenger is using the phone, but the sign will still be activated reminding motorists of the distraction a mobile phone can cause whilst driving.

The new equipment will be used as part of a week of enforcement and education activity running from Monday April 15 to Sunday April 21 as part of the National Police Chief’s council campaign.

It will be located on the A34 in Oxfordshire initially but will be posted at different locations throughout the Thames Valley during the course of the campaign while officers will also be out on patrol stopping motorists caught using their mobile phone.

Aimee Goldsmith, who died after a crash on the A34 caused by a driver using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. Her mum is supporting the police's campaign.

Aimee Goldsmith, who died after a crash on the A34 caused by a driver using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. Her mum is supporting the police's campaign.

Anyone caught using a mobile phone whilst driving can get an automatic fixed penalty notice and potentially six penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200.

Cases could also go to court where there is a chance of disqualification from driving or riding and a potential fine of up to £1,000 for car drivers.

The campaign is being supported by Kate Goldsmith, whose daughter Aimee died aged 11 following a road traffic collision on 10 August 2016.

A lorry driver had been using his mobile phone to change music whilst driving and ploughed into stationary traffic crushing a number of cars and killing Aimee, her stepbrothers Josh Houghton, aged 11, Ethan Houghton, aged 13, and the brothers mum Tracey Houghton, aged 45.

Kate, who has been an active campaigner over the use of mobile phones by drivers said: “I am supporting this campaign and welcome any technology which can assist in educating people and stop them from using their mobile phones whilst driving.

"Most mothers’ look forward to planning their daughter’s weddings - I had to plan Aimee’s funeral.

“My son Jake was travelling in the car behind the one that Aimee was travelling in, thankfully he was uninjured, but he literally saw the moment that killed his sister.

“Please take a minute to just think about that.

"Seeing your sister, brother, daughter, son or any person you love being killed.

“This was down to someone being distracted by their phone whilst driving a lethal weapon.

"My daughter’s death was completely avoidable.

“Please don’t use your mobile phone whilst driving it’s not worth the risk.”

PC Liz Johnson, a roads safety officer for Thames Valley Police's joint operations roads policing unit said: “Research shows us that you are four times more likely to crash if you are using a mobile phone whilst driving, reaction times are around 50% slower than a driver not using a mobile phone.

“It is also apparent that you are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal collision when texting compared with drink driving.

“In the Thames Valley since 2014 there have been 83 people killed or seriously injured as a result of drivers using their mobile phones and 40 have been killed or seriously injured in Hampshire.

“It is vital that people take notice and stop using their mobile phones whilst driving.

“The joint operations unit will continue to educate people of the dangers of using a mobile phone whilst driving through our “It’s Not Worth The Risk” campaign and reduce the devastating impact it can have on people’s lives.

“We will be utilising the new technology from Westcotec to help inform our enforcement activity to find hotspots and also further educate motorists.

“Additionally, officers will be carrying out enforcement activity throughout next week.

"We will be utilising a bus in order to travel around locations in the Thames Valley and Hampshire to spot motorists breaking the law and using mobile phones.

“My advice would be to turn off your phone whilst driving, put it out of reach, out of view so that more innocent people don’t lose their lives.

"Remember it is not worth the risk.”

The new technology has been developed by Norfolk company Westcotec whose managing director Chris Spinks said: “Our system is designed to provide intelligence to police officers so that they can carry out enforcement activity in order to reduce the amount of people who are using mobile phones illegally on our roads.

“Our technology provides a visual sign to motorists who are using a mobile phone whilst driving without Bluetooth.

“We are pleased to be working with the joint operations unit for Thames Valley and Hampshire Police to reduce the devastating impact of people driving whilst using a mobile phone.

“We will continue to develop new technologies so that we can help reduce people being injured and losing loved ones through the needless use of mobile phones whilst driving.”