Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey with actor Tom O'Sullivan as they exhibit law-breaking at the launch of the RSA May Bank Holiday Safety Campaign urging motorists to switch off before they drive off. Robbie Reynolds
A DRIVER is being caught every 15 minutes illegally using a mobile phone.
Gardai said yesterday that 8,500 motorists have been prosecuted in the first three months of this year after being caught texting or calling someone while driving.
And the head of the Garda Traffic Corps said his officers would be targeting drivers using mobile phones over the May bank holiday weekend.
Driver distraction is believed to play a role in up to 30pc of all road accidents. Research suggests that using a mobile can increase the risk of being in a crash by up to four times.
Last year, some 35,000 drivers were prosecuted, receiving two penalty points and a €60 fine. If the penalty is not paid initially or the charge is contested, the points are doubled to four points if the motorist is convicted in court.
Research from the Road Safety Authority (RSA) shows that up to 45pc of all drivers have admitted using their phone while driving, and at any given moment during the day between 2pc and 6pc of motorists are using a phone.
"Not only is it illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, it is dangerous in the extreme," Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said yesterday.
"You are four times more likely to be involved in a collision. We need to bring about the change of mindset that occurred with drink driving to mobile phone use. This will be through enforcement and education.
"About 8,500 people have been prosecuted in the first three months of the year. That's a 10pc hike on the same period in 2010. We don't want to prosecute people, we want to stop the carnage on the roads.
"Over the May bank holiday weekend, gardai will be actively enforcing the legislation relating to mobile phones and driving. If you need to make a call or answer a text message, pull over to a safe place first."
There are two types of distraction associated with mobile phone use in a car -- physical and cognitive, the RSA said.
Instead of focusing on the physical and visual tasks required by driving, such as steering, changing gears and looking at the road, drivers are focused on manipulating the phone or paying attention to what is on the screen.
The driver's attention also turns from the road environment to the sounds and topic of the phone conversation.
A total of 97,432 penalty point notices have been issued to Irish drivers for mobile phone offences since 2006, and the breakdown shows that most are imposed on motorists in the large urban areas.
Most have been imposed in Dublin (19,746); then Cork (9,801); Kildare (4,451); Galway (3,999); and Meath (3,795).
Leitrim has the lowest number of offences with 365, followed by Longford (601); Monaghan (756); Limerick city; (769); and Waterford city (826).
Points were not applied to 20,494 drivers, because they were from outside the State.
Launching a safety campaign in Dublin yesterday, Rose of Tralee Clare Kambamettu urged drivers to put the phone aside while driving.
"As Rose of Tralee, I have spent the last number of months driving to events all over Ireland," she said.
"Talking or texting on your mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous.
"It's not worth risking your life and the lives of others so please make sure to switch off before you drive off this May bank holiday weekend."
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar branded drivers who insisted on using a phone as "irresponsible", warning it was "not worth the risk".