Police last night issued a stark warning to so-called ‘digital rubber-neckers’ – drivers in Norfolk and Suffolk who slow down to take pictures of crashes on their smartphones.

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A survey by motoring organisation the AA has revealed that more than two in five drivers are illegally using hand-held mobiles while at the wheel, with some, dubbed “digital rubber-neckers”, taking pictures of crashes.

Northamptonshire police recorded 80 drivers using phones or cameras to photograph emergency services attempting a four-and-a-half-hour rescue of a 21-year-old driver trapped in her crashed truck on the M1 last month.

Now police are warning of the consequences if motorists are caught in the ghoulish act.

Chief Inspector Chris Spinks of Norfolk and Suffolk’s Roads Policing Unit said: “Anyone taking photos or videos of collisions runs the risk of prosecution or being involved in a collision themselves.

“It can be an offence to use a hand-held device whilst driving, or to not be in proper control of your vehicle. A second collision would put emergency services under greater pressure and cause further congestion and delays for other road users, as well as potentially causing injury, or worse. In addition, such images and videos can be distasteful and intrusive into a traumatic situation. With 24-hour social media, such images can quickly be published widely or passed on and can cause upset to the friends and family of those involved.”

Those taking pictures while driving could be committing one of a number of offences: not having proper control of the vehicle, driving without due care and attention or driving whilst using a hand-held device which are all endorsable and which could result in fines. But if it results in the driver crashing and killing or seriously injuring someone they could be prosecuted for dangerous driving or death by careless or dangerous driving, which could ultimately result in a jail term.

AA president Edmund King said: “Digital rubber-neckers who photograph crashes really are morbid voyeurs who should be concentrating on the road, not the victims of crashes. It beggars belief that these macabre motorists should put their lives and others at risk.”

Liz Voysey, from Dereham, whose 19-year-old daughter Amy Upcraft was killed on the A47 in March 2004 when her car was struck by a van as she sat stranded in the outside lane of the A47, backed the AA message and urged police to clamp down.

Mrs Voysey, a campaigner for road safety charities Brake and Roadpeace, said: “It’s incredible the depths of depravity some people will go to. They’re putting other people’s lives in danger and breaking the law.

“It’s obscene. The selfish voyeuristic needs of a driver – and what if they put it on YouTube? That would destroy a family.”

An AA survey of 21,000 drivers found of the 42pc who used mobiles while driving, 60pc said it had distracted them.

As many as 74pc said they had seen others using mobiles on some or most journeys, with 25pc seeing mobile use on all trips. Around 20pc admitted using a mobile to send a text, 4pc checked emails and 2pc even sent emails while at the controls.

peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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