Council aims to ring changes with new safety campaign aimed at drivers and mobiles.
We laughed when comedian Dom Joly first introduced Mobile Phone Man upon an unsuspecting public - his character shouting into an oversized mobile phone in socially unacceptable settings.
We’re not laughing now.
Today we see mobile phones used in the most inappropriate place of all - at the steering wheel of a car. Few of the calls are crucial. Instead, say campaigners, drivers prefer to dice with death - their own or another’s - when ordering a pizza or asking whether the family want coleslaw or beans with their bargain bucket.
Now Blackpool Council hopes to ring in some changes itself. The authority has kick-started a new poster campaign to curb mobile phone-related accidents and incidents on our roads.
It’s 10 years since the law was changed to make it illegal to use a mobile phone at the wheel.
Unlike the ‘clunk-click every trip’ seatbelt safety message, the ‘Smartphone stupid driver’ message has yet to hit home.
You still see drivers with mobile phones cradled to their ears - or motorists eerily lit by the glare of the phone face jabbing out a text message while driving.
Most wear seatbelts - the use of which became mandatory for front seat occupants 30 years ago.
But, say campaigners, drivers still court disaster chatting to loved ones or colleagues on a phone when we both hands should be on the steering wheel and minds on avoiding hazards. And there is growing concern that with films, music, food and flight bookings and other activities just a click or a glide away the risk of distraction is becoming even greater.
All of which carries a three point penalty and £60 fine if police catch you at it ... and that’s if you’re lucky.
For a moment’s inattention can kill. New research by the Transport Research Laboratory says using a handheld mobile to make or take a call can slow reactions by 45.9 per cent.
Social networking and texting is said to slow reactions by around 37 per cent.
And using a smartphone is claimed to be an even greater distraction than being just within the legal alcohol limits.
Blackpool Council’s transportation chief John Donnellon says a decade on, the handheld mobile phone remains as deadly as ever.
“We need to make it as anti social as drink driving or not wearing seatbelts,” he adds.
“Those campaigns have been far more productive.
“The whole mobile phone thing seems more intractable.
“There’s a real risk in a place like Blackpool. We have so many different types of road user and we need to get across that their lives are at risk as well as others.
“Is it worth it to take or make a phone call?
“There’s another hazard too - and that’s pedestrians.
“Our teams do quite a bit of work with young people in relation to head phones, music and iPods, or just walking along looking down at their phones or tablets all the time.
“They cut themselves off to the rest of the world. Even cyclists do it. Dark nights add to the risks. Our campaign relates to all road users.
“We want to make the space as safe as it can be - but it relies on people paying attention.
“Safety organisations are also concerned about hands free because that’s a far from passive process too. It’s still distracting so potentially dangerous.
“I don’t do it myself. I deliberately leave my phone in the back so it’s out of reach and not a temptation.”
Blackpool driving instructor Donna James of Geared Up Driving School says she’s even had pupils pull mobiles from their pockets if it vibrates or rings.
“It turns me grey in seconds. I’ve very strong views on the whole smartphone/iPod generation.
“The vast majority of my pupils seem to live their lives around texts. Facebook and Twitter, frightened of missing anything. Many of the questions in the multiple choice driving theory exam relate to the dangers of being distracted by pocketsize technology of the modern day.
“It is drummed into the learner at an early stage - before taking to the wheel.
“However, when the green licence is returned in pink it appears the law no longer relates to them.
“On each journey I take through each working day I am appalled by the number of drivers either texting or blatantly speaking into their mobile phones and putting my life at risk - a selfish act with no consideration.
“It’s a selfish act with no consideration for other road users and, worse, pedestrians.
“Within two months I have been involved in two accidents whilst driving where both parties had hit my vehicle.
“The first was speaking on handsfree and the second was changing his music choice on his iPod.
“Both caused inconvenience and disruption to my business whilst repairs were carried out - but luckily there were no injuries although it could quite easily have been different.
“Being on the receiving end of people who disregard the law has made me realise how easy it is to be distracted.
“I understand the powers-that-be urge callers to mobile phones to ask ‘are you driving?’ before carrying on with their conversation or disconnecting.
“This is something we all should be doing.
“However, it’s down to the driver not to connect the call in the first instance or, as stated in the Highway Code, find a safe, convenient and legal place to park.”