An assistant chief constable has escaped a driving ban after colliding with an oncoming car while trying to make a hands-free phone call to her husband.
On Thursday last week, Nottingham Magistrates’ Court heard Kerrie Wilson, assistant chief constable of Lincolnshire Police, had just left the force’s headquarters when she strayed on to the wrong side of the road, crashing into a Hyundai i30 travelling in the opposite direction.
The Rutland and Stamford Mercury reports the court was told the 51-year-old became distracted as she tried to find the Bluetooth button on the steering wheel of her Mini Countryman and was unfamiliar with the controls because she had only just started driving the vehicle.
The driver of the other car suffered whiplash and bruising, and had to be taken to hospital.
Wilson had pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention at an earlier hearing and was ordered to pay a total of £1,460 in fines and costs. She also had seven points added to her licence.
In mitigation, Wilson, of Heighington, County Durham, accepted taking her eyes off the road momentarily to look at the steering wheel while trying to call her husband, Phil Wilson, the Labour MP for Sedgefield.
A letter from her solicitor presented to the court said: “She had only been driving (the car) for a week and was unfamiliar with where the buttons were.
“The next thing she heard was a bang, and she collided with the other vehicle.
“She accepts the collision was due to her lack of attention to the road for a matter of seconds. She believes she was travelling at no more than 15 miles per hour.”
The court heard the matter was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, which recommended Wilson attend a driver improvement course in June.
However, she arrived 10 minutes late for the course and was not allowed to take part – then told she would receive a court summons.
Wilson is also being investigated for misconduct in relation to the incident.
David Clarson, chairman of the bench, said: “Driving without due care and attention is a serious matter which can put lives at risk.
“There is no doubt Kerrin Wilson was distracted while undertaking other activities while driving. Clearly there were injuries to an innocent third party.
“We are obliged to treat everybody in the same way, and that is particularly relevant in this case.
“In this case we have somebody who has shown remorse, shown immediate care for the victim, and has pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.”
Calls to make use of hands-free devices illegal
While using a hands-free phone while driving is legal, research from the University of Sussex has found driving while talking on one can be just as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile.
Road safety organisations such as Brake and RoSPA (Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents) have called for the use of hands-free devices while driving to be made illegal. Many fleets, such as Ocado, have also banned their use.
The current punishment for drivers using hand-held phones is six penalty points and a £200 fine, although depending on the seriousness of the offence, offenders can also be taken to court to face stiffer penalties – a recent survey by Motorpoint found almost 90% of motorists want to see tougher punishments.