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Coppers nab more mobe-yapping drivers

HELLO? YES, I'M IN A TWISTED METAL CARCASS!

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The number of people charged for driving while talking on the mobile has been climbing steadily for the last few years. The majority were Londoners, who are also the most adept in getting away with it.

The figures come from a commons answer in response to a question from Bury MP David Ruffley asking how many drivers were stopped, charged, convicted, fined and cautioned. The first two of those aren't recorded nationally, and neither are fixed-penalty notices which make up the majority of cases, but the remaining figures have been made available for the years 2003-2006.

Only one person was fined for using a mobile phone in 2003, but come 2004 789 people were up in court charged with "use of hand-held mobile phone while driving". 641 were found guilty and 596 got fined for it. Those figures have been climbing steadily since, with 2005 seeing 2,090 appearances, and 2,682 putting their case in 2006. These figures are all from England and Wales - Scottish figures are separate and not recorded here.

The number of people found guilty has also been climbing, as police and prosecutors work out which cases they are likely to win and how to present them, though there's still room for improvement in some areas.

In 2004 the Metropolitan Police took 203 drivers to court, but only 124 were found guilty - that's only 61 per cent. Manchester, with the next-highest figures, hauled 73 miscreants in front of the beak and got a guilty rate of 89 per cent, with 64 of those 65 being fined.

Come 2005 the Met were sharpening their game: upping their ratio to almost 83 per cent of the 658 they took to court, with 545 being found guilty, but still couldn't match Manchester's rate of 88 per cent of 154 court appearances being found guilty.

But the trend is definitely in London's favour - in 2006 the Met managed to up their rate to 85.8 per cent, compared to Manchester's 86 per cent, with the forces collaring 588 and 183 miscreants respectively.

Getting guilty verdicts is all very well, but the astute reader will have noticed an upward trend in court appearances. With more people getting pulled each year it's hard to imagine this is leading to a decline in drivers yapping on hand-held devices while in motion. It could be down to more effective policing, or perhaps better reporting, but it could equally be more people believing their call is important enough to risk their life over.

Unless they live in Kent - where no one has apparently ever used a mobile phone handset whilst driving, or at least got caught doing it. Northamptonshire has an almost equally good record, excepting a burst of activity in 2004 when 8 people made it to court - obviously an over-eager officer who has since been suitably retrained. ®

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