Ion Onut’s cab burst into flames and careered 100 metres along the A1(M) at Bowburn in County Durham in horrific scenes which were captured on dashcam in July 2021.
He was jailed for eight years and 10 months at Durham Crown Court after admitting three counts of causing death by dangerous driving.
Couple David Daglish and Elaine Sullivan from Seaham, County Durham, and Paul Mullen from Washington, Tyne and Wear, died instantly.
The judge told the 41-year-old it would have been bad enough if he had fallen asleep, but Onut had been trawling the internet for sexual partners, and his last interaction on his mobile phone had come just seconds before impact.
Onut agreed to be interviewed in prison as part of a documentary produced by Durham Constabulary’s media team, as well as for the BBC’s Deadly Browsing: The Lorry Driver.
He said: “I have to live with this for the rest of my life.
“I never had a chance to apologise, to say sorry for what I had done to those who lost their loved ones, the people who were injured, the ones who suffer from flashbacks.
“By being on my phone for a long period of time and then realising the traffic ahead of me had stopped, I had absolutely zero chance to act and pull my brakes on.
“It shows you how quickly it happens, and how quickly your life changes from being normal to now being in prison, having a sentence of eight years.”
Onut’s vehicle was travelling at 58mph when it struck another HGV and four cars before coming to rest at the central reservation and bursting into flames.
He was rescued from his burning cab by members of the public and later arrested by police at the scene.
“When I saw the videos of what happened it was unimaginable and hard to see,” he added.
“It was so disturbing knowing that was me in that lorry ploughing through the cars.”
Junior Sullivan, whose mother and step-father were killed in the crash, said he “had no doubt [Onut] didn’t set out to kill people, but he made a conscious choice to use his mobile phone and that’s frustrating.”
He added: “The only way to change people’s behaviour is educating them on not only the dangers but the impact it can have on other people’s lives and how easy these things can happen.”
DC Natalie Horner, from Durham Constabulary’s Collision Investigation Unit, said she hoped the film would highlight “just how devastating using a mobile phone or other device at the wheel of a vehicle can be”.
“Ion’s actions from that day caused far-reaching and heart-breaking consequences for all of those involved – the families and friends of those who tragically lost their lives, the people who witnessed the collision, and the emergency services who attended the horrific scene that day,” she added.
“Ion himself also has to live with the horror of knowing that two families have been ripped apart and will never be the same again as a result of his actions.
“Please, put the phone down while driving.”