Hands off your mobile: undercover with Sergeant Chris Harris

A driver using a mobile phone while driving down Grapes Hill in Norwich.Picture: STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A driver using a mobile phone while driving down Grapes Hill in Norwich.Picture: STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Credit: Archant

A middle-aged man in a car next to us glances over guiltily while at a junction just outside the city centre, a mobile phone clutched in his left hand.

Sergeant Chris Harris is one of many officers who patrol for distracted drivers

Sergeant Chris Harris is one of many officers who patrol for distracted drivers - Credit: Archant

I'm in an unmarked police vehicle with Sgt Chris Harris, tracking down drivers in Norwich using their phone at the wheel. Norfolk and Suffolk Police are holding a week-long campaign to raise awareness about the issue after a recent crackdown on distracted drivers.

The EDP also launched its own Hands Off Your Mobile campaign in September to discourage drivers from using mobile phones while driving.

New changes from police mean that drivers caught using their phone will automatically be issued an £100 fine and three penalty points on their license, without the alternative option of an educational course. Next year, punishments will increase to a £200 fine and six penalty points: enough to revoke a new driver's license after just one offence.

We pull over the man on his phone and Sgt Harris issues his fine. The driver isn't angry or surprised; he says he was taking a call on speakerphone and was aware that he shouldn't be using his phone while driving.

Norfolk police are cracking down on drivers who use their phone at the wheel

Norfolk police are cracking down on drivers who use their phone at the wheel - Credit: Archant

Sgt Harris is adamant that this is part of the problem.

'It's not like drivers don't know what they're doing is wrong, the education component is clearly working.

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'This is about trying to make using your phone and driving socially unacceptable, like drink driving, and changing the behaviour. All evidence suggests that using a telephone is just as bad as drink driving.

'It's a serious offence, you need to keep your eyes on the road. Your concentration should be 100pc on driving and nothing else,' he said.

The Department for Transport reported that 53 crashes in East Anglia were caused by drivers on their phones last year. In September, a lorry driver was given a six year prison sentence for killing a police officer after reading a text message.

Texting and driving seems to be a dangerously ubiquitous trend, one that all age groups, not just young people, are guilty of. Sgt Harris explains that earlier in the day he had pulled over a woman texting her husband that she'd be late, with her child sitting in the back seat.

'If your mobile phone goes off, there's this behaviour that you need to check it immediately. It's like Pavlov's dog: we hear the phone ring and we're conditioned to respond instantly,' he said.

And Sgt Harris, who is an avid Twitter user for Norfolk Police, knows first-hand what it's like to receive a notification and want to check it straight away.

He says the best way to resist temptation is to turn your phone on mute or put it away as soon as you get in the car.

'No text, call, Facebook message, tweet - whatever - is that important. I've never had something that important come up on my phone to risk putting lives in danger,' he said.

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