Text messaging nears a billion

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Nearly a billion mobile phone text messages were sent in January, according to the latest industry figures from the Mobile Data Association.

If you take the average price of sending a message at 10p, that means the texting business is now worth £100m a month.

Teenagers are the biggest text messagers, with children as young as twelve known to have run up bills of £60 a month.

Teenagers love the simplicity and secrecy of text messaging, but they often mistakenly believe that it’s cheap.

According to the Carphone Warehouse, BT Cellnet and Vodafone charge 12p to send a message, Orange charges between 4p and 10p depending on the tariff, and with One2One it can cost either 10p, 5p or nothing, depending on the call type.

The total number of messages rose to 929 million in the UK last month, compared to just 756 million the previous month, or 322 million a year earlier.

The 18.6% month-on-month increase was spurred by a frenzy of ‘Happy New Year’ messaging.

And figures are expected to be equally high this month, due to a boom in romantic messages on Valentine’s day.

Telecom watchdog Oftel is to investigate whether Britain’s 40 million mobile phone users are increasingly sending text messages to avoid higher call charges for mobile phones.

“Texting is a very conspicous development and we want to see what effect it has had on the market,” said an Oftel spokeswoman.

“It is a possibility that the growth in text messaging could drive down the cost of mobile calls,” she added.

Vodafone and BT Cellnet says that the number of spoken calls made from mobiles is also continuing to grow, albeit at a much slower rate.

“There will always be a demand for making calls to and from mobiles irrespective of the growth of text messaging,” BT Cellnet’s Carole Williams said.

‘Text message’ driver gets five years

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A lorry driver who was sending a text message to his girlfriend when he hit and killed a man has been sentenced to five years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving.

The court case, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, centred on whether or not Paul Browning, 36, from Kenley, Surrey, was messaging on his mobile phone at the time of the collision.

Paul Hammond, 24, from Hockley, Essex, was killed in June last year after being hit by Browning’s heavy goods vehicle, in a lay-by on the A13 at Pitsea, Essex.

Browning admitted causing death by dangerous driving but denied that he was using his phone at the time of the accident.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Judge Daniel Worsley said Browning’s explanation that the message was keyed in while he was in stationary traffic was “wholly unbelievable”.

He said that while the lorry driver was remorseful about what had happened, it was “difficult to imagine a more blatant act of such of cold blooded disregard for safety on the roads.”

He said the five-year jail sentence was necessary to send a “stern deterrent’ to drivers, stressing there was now serious public concern about motorists using mobile phones while driving.

Outside court the victim’s father, Alan Hammond, said that justice had been done, but it would not bring back his son.

He said: “A lesson has been learned today that mobile phones can be lethal weapons.”

Inspector Alan Jelley of Essex Police said the jail sentence – which could have been a maximum of 10 years under dangerous driving laws – sent a strong safety message to the public.

Earlier Barry Gilbert, prosecuting, told Southend Crown Court Browning lost concentration while composing a text message and slowly veered off the road into the lay-by.

The court was told Browning was in the process of writing a text message to his girlfriend when the accident occurred.

Browning’s message to his girlfriend read: “Oh yes! A real scorcher! Well just leaving Benfleet 4 West Thurrock job No7 of 11.”

After an expletive, Browning then ended the message with the words: “Call you back!”

Mr Gilbert told the court he did not believe Browning had been aware he had hit Mr Hammond because if he had he would not have ended the message in such a way.

But Kim Hollis, defending, said her client had been preoccupied with some papers which were flapping in his cab.

She said although he had composed a message earlier, he was not in the process of doing it when the accident happened.

The court heard Browning did send a message from his mobile phone shortly after the accident.

The court was told that at the time of the accident, the victim was standing in the lay-by speaking to his mother through the window of her Ford Escort.

His BMW car was parked behind her vehicle, also in the lay-by.

He had forgotten his glasses and she was delivering them to him.

Mr Gilbert said the victim was dragged some distance down the carriageway after being struck.

Mobiles and driving – a deadly mix

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The dangers of using mobile phones whilst driving have again come under scrutiny following the conviction of lorry driver Paul Browning.

Browning, 36, from Kenley, Surrey, was composing a text message on his mobile phone when he veered off a road and fatally injured a pedestrian.

Paul Hammond, 24, from Hockley, Essex, was killed in June last year after being hit by Browning’s heavy goods vehicle, laden with gas bottles, in a lay-by on the A13 at Pitsea, Essex.

Browning admitted causing death by dangerous driving at a trial earlier this week but denied he was composing a text message at the time of the accident.

But in a ruling on Wednesday, believed to be the first of its kind, a judge found that the text message had played a part in the accident.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has long campaigned for legislation which would ban the use of mobile phones in cars.

Unofficial figures held by the RoSPA state that, to date, 16 road deaths have occurred in the UK in which mobile phones can be implicated.

Most mobile phone companies issue documentation with new purchases spelling out the dangers of using hand-held mobile phones whilst driving.

Tom Wills-Sandford, director of information and communications at the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI) which represents mobile phone operators and manufacturers, said: “The basic principle which should be adhered to by drivers is to obey the law.

“The only objective should be to concentrate on driving and on no account should drivers be reading or sending text messages.”

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has produced a leaflet highlighting the dangers of mixing driving with mobile phones.

The leaflet stresses that although there is currently no legislation banning the use of mobile phones in cars, drivers can be prosecuted for offences such as careless driving or, in more serious cases such as that of Browning, dangerous driving.

Richard Meakin of the DETR said: “Our leaflet, which is being made available to the police and road safety officers, recommends that mobile phones should not be used at all while driving.

“This latest case highlights the tragic consequences which can result if drivers do not maintain proper control of their vehicles.”

Mr Meakin said the government would be launching an advertising campaign in the next few months which it hopes will further deter the use of mobiles by drivers.

A government spokesperson said the reason the use of mobile phones whilst driving had not been made a specific offence was because it was feared other forms of distraction, such as putting on make-up, changing CDs or eating whilst driving, would be trivialised.

Stranded tourist dials SOS on mobile

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A UK tourist stranded on a boat off Indonesia has used her mobile phone to raise the alarm with her boyfriend in England.

He dialled 999 and was put through to coastguards in Falmouth, who alerted the Indonesian authorities to her plight.

Indonesian rescue workers, and coastguards in Australia, are trying to locate the tourist, who is believed to have run aground with some friends on a hired boat between Bali and Lombok.

The distance between the two islands is around 10 miles.

The woman, who has not been named, telephoned her boyfriend at 0230GMT on Wednesday, when the 23-foot boat she and her friends had hired ran aground.

She tried unsuccessfully to summon help locally and resorted to ringing her boyfriend back in England.

When Falmouth coastguards contacted her on her mobile phone, she was unable to give them her precise location.

By 1030GMT, the Indonesian authorities were informed of what had happened.

It is unclear how much danger the stricken tourists are in, but the duty watch officer at Falmouth said that making a long-distance mobile phone call was the right decision

He said: “Unless she can speak the local language, she wouldn’t get very far trying to ring the authorities in Indonesia herself.”

WUBMV? messages set 2 soar

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The traditional wait for the postman is likely to be supplanted by the bleep of the mobile phone this St Valentine’s Day.

Twice as many text messages as cards will be sent as the latest craze for teenagers goes into overdrive.

When the A-level results were released in August, teenagers sent six million messages in one day, but that figure was surpassed on New Year’s Eve when 11 million text messages were sent.

This St Valentine’s Day will see an estimated 30 million messages sent on the wings of love between mobile phones.

The Post Office expects to deliver 12 million cards by traditional snail mail.

Text messaging may even be taking over from ‘snail mail’ as the preferred method of sending romantic greetings to somebody else.

A survey carried out by Virgin Mobile reveals that over half of the UK’s 24 million mobile phone users (57%) would consider sending a text message (SMS) from their phone rather than a Valentine’s card.

Half of all mobile phone users expect a Valentine’s text message from a lover and one in four people intend to use text messaging to ask someone out on St Valentine’s Day.

Another mobile phone company, Vodafone, has come up with a novel solution for those wishing to send anonymous text messages. Normally, the sender of a text message comes up after the message but Vodafone can circumvent that with a special service it is providing for Valentine’s Day.

Secret admirers will now be able to send text messages and keep the receiver guessing in the old-fashioned way.

The growth in text messaging has been astonishing. In 1999 an average of 500,000 text messages were sent every month; this year that figure will increase a thousand fold with 500 million text messages being sent every month.

It is now the preferred means of communication for Britain’s teenagers and a new abbreviations dictionary (or DXNRE) called wan2tlk? has been a bestseller for months.

Valentine’s Day will be a boon for all mobile phone companies with text messages costing an average of 12p each. But companies have also warned of possible delays as the networks try to cope with demand.