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Operation Vertebrae is a campaign taking place along the full length of the M6, the longest motorway in the country, with police officers patrolling in Highways England’s unmarked HGV supercabs. From their elevated viewpoint, they will be able to spot people driving illegally and dangerously – whatever vehicle they might be in.
Six police forces are taking part – Merseyside, Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire Central Motorway Police Group, Warwickshire – and the North West Commercial Vehicle Unit.
Highways England deals with around 180 reported incidents on the M6 every day. These include a number of traffic collisions, with 4,222 reported on the M6 in 2019.
Since 2015, more than 20,300 offences have been recorded by Highways England on the M6.
The most common offences included:
• Using a mobile phone – 5,975
• Not wearing a seatbelt – 5,648
• Not in proper control of vehicle – 1,423
• Speeding – 1,165
Highways England Head of Road Safety, Jeremy Phillips, said: “The number of people found using their mobile phone while driving is quite alarming. You are four times more likely to be in a crash if you use your phone, and if caught face a £200 fine and six points on your licence.
“Through this week of action on the M6 we want to make all of our roads safer by raising awareness and encouraging motorists to consider their driving behaviour.”
Among the shocking incidents witnessed on the M6 were a driver steering his lorry with his knees while eating lunch on his lap, a driver eating lasagne with a knife and fork while driving in lane one, and a driver boiling a kettle on the dashboard.
One driver was caught twice in a single day – in the morning and afternoon – using their mobile phone while driving along the A38 in Derbyshire.
Other offences have included people driving while reading, watching DVDs, undressing, holding mobile phones in both hands and doing their internet banking.
Consequences for the drivers range from warnings to fixed penalty notices, court summons or arrest.
“We’re pleased to be taking an active role in this national operation.
“Driving with an insecure load on the motorway is incredibly dangerous, and an offence we regularly issue penalty points for. Officers will be proactively assessing HGVs to ensure that they are adhering to the guidelines.
“In 2020, throughout Merseyside, there were 1,073 tickets issued by officers to drivers using a handheld mobile device and 1,042 given for drivers not wearing a seatbelt. These were our fifth and sixth most prominent offences for tickets issued by officers and demonstrates that despite the obvious dangers, people are still frequently ignoring them.
“That is totally unacceptable. Driving on the motorway demands full attention and focus, and we’ll be out all week, at all hours, making sure that drivers face the consequences if they aren’t giving it that attention.”
Throughout the M6 week of action, Highways England traffic officers will also be joining forces with the emergency services and road safety partners to provide free tyre checks and safety tips to drivers at motorway services.
The multi-agency operation will also see vehicle checks carried out at services involving the DVSA, Health and Safety Executive and the Home Office.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: “We remain committed to tackling those who take unnecessary risks with their own safety and the safety of others on our roads by allowing themselves to be distracted while driving. The consequences of these actions are often devastating.”
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