Drivers are risking lives on Scotland’s busiest motorway by making mobile phone calls and texting at speeds of 70mph and more.
A Sunday Mail investigation found a string of motorists breaking the law on the busiest stretch of the M8.
Conviction rates are now less than a third the 2015 figure and police officers’ representatives warned that diminished resources mean not enough offenders are being punished.
Our Sunday Mail probe today exposes the alarming regularity with which motorists take their eyes off the road to look at a phone or device while travelling at top speed.
A five-hour snapshot of the busy stretch of the M8 between Harthill, in Lanarkshire, and Glasgow found five drivers either calling or texting while travelling at the national speed limit or above.
Elsewhere, we were able to find other motorists talking, texting and even conducting a car-to-car conversation.
More than 10,000 mobile phone motoring offences were recorded in 2015-16 – a rate of 27 a day – according to Scottish Government figures.
But conviction rates are less than a third of what they were in 2014, as police leaders say officers have struggled to tackle the problem because of cuts.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “While any use of a handheld phone while driving is illegal, using one while driving at high speed represents one of the most serious road safety risks.
“A split second’s misjudgment or distraction could be fatal.
“The fact some believe it’s still OK to use a handheld phone while driving on a motorway should focus the minds of everyone responsible for ending the handheld mobile phone epidemic that has gripped the UK.
“It should be a reminder to us all to think twice before picking up the phone when we’re behind the wheel.”
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, who represent rank and file officers, said: “The use of mobile phones while driving at any time is selfish and dangerous.
“Doing so at motorway speeds displays an utter contempt for the safety of other road users and a casual disregard for the value of life.”
He added: “As police officers increasingly work from fewer and more remote police stations, it is inevitable they have less time to police the same stretches of roads they once did.
“Anyone who uses a mobile while driving on the motorway is dicing with death.”
Last year, lorry driver Tomasz Kroker killed a mum and three children when he ploughed into their vehicle while scrolling through music on his phone.
The 30-year-old was jailed for 10 years after pleading guilty to four charges of causing death by dangerous driving at Reading Crown Court last October.
Tracey Houghton, 45, her sons, Ethan Houghton, 13, and Josh Houghton, 11, and her stepdaughter, Aimee Goldsmith, 11, all died when Kroker shunted their car under a heavy goods vehicle at 50mph on the A34 north of Newbury, Berkshire.
The shocking incident has not deterred others though.
In one case observed by our team, a taxi driver was spotted using a phone while passengers sat in the back.
Van drivers were also seen making calls and using phones balanced on their steering wheels.
One man was seen checking his phone with one hand while holding a piece of paper with the other.
Private car users were no different, with one woman apparently checking texts or the internet while clearly not looking at the road.
Tougher penalties from March will see motorists caught using a mobile receive six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
The sanctions – up from three points and a £100 fine – will be accompanied by a high-profile government campaign. New drivers could be made to retake their test the first time they are caught.
The rules, which will apply to Scotland, England and Wales, could also see experienced drivers going to court if
they offend twice.
Gary Rae, of road safety charity Brake, said: “While we welcome the Government’s intent to double the penalty points for those caught using a mobile phone when behind the wheel, the financial penalty needs to be significantly increased.
“The cut in the numbers of specialist traffic police has had a dramatic impact on the levels of enforcement.”
Glasgow-based road traffic lawyer Michael Lyon said: “The legislation specifically prohibiting the use of handheld phones while driving has been in force since 2003.
“It has always been open to the Crown to pursue mobile charges under the alternative legislative provisions which deal with careless or dangerous driving and, therefore, take advantage of the wider range of penalty.
“My experience of these cases, however, is that the driver travelling at 70mph on the motorway whilst tweeting some inanity is as likely to receive the standard three-point fixed penalty as the driver who quickly glances at his phone for messages while stuck in traffic.
“It would seem obvious that the first scenario has a much greater potential for causing harm.”
Scots are the worst in the UK for using their mobiles while driving, research found last year.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “Sadly, people continue to lose their lives on our roads in crashes caused by drivers who are distracted because they use a mobile phone.
“This can so easily be avoided by all motorists switching off their phones while driving.”
Police Scotland insist they are equipped to clampdown on drivers using mobiles.
Superintendent Fraser Candlish, of Police Scotland’s Road Policing Unit, said: “Drivers who think they can multi-task are fooling themselves.
“Talking on a phone, handheld or hands-free, texting, emailing, adjusting sat navs, eating, drinking and smoking are all proven to increase crash risk.
“Police Scotland consistently targets these offences on a daily basis to reduce road casualties and will deal with offences in an appropriate manner.”