New data published by the RAC shows a fall in the number of mobile phone offences detected by police following the introduction of tougher penalties in March 2017.
The statistics show around 1,700 fewer drivers were stopped for using a handheld phone in the three months after the penalty for the offence was doubled to six penalty points and a £200 fine, compared to the three months immediately prior.
In total 14,160 drivers were charged with the offence between March and May 2017 – down 11% compared with the 15,861 who were stopped between December 2016 and February 2017.
While the RAC acknowledges that it is much too early to tell if the stricter penalties are changing drivers’ behaviour, it says the figures give hope that ‘at least some are starting to get the message’.
The RAC collected the data following a Freedom of Information request to UK police forces which produced responses from 38 forces.
The sharpest percentage fall (67%) was in the City of London where just 41 drivers were stopped after the new penalties were introduced, compared with 124 in the three months prior.
However, while 25 police forces recorded a fall in the number of offences after the new penalties, 11 saw a rise and in two the number was unchanged.
Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesman, said: “It is still much too early to tell if the stricter penalties that were introduced in the spring are changing drivers’ behaviour, but these figures perhaps give hope that at least some are starting to get the message that driving and using a handheld phone to talk, text or tweet don’t mix.
“Following the introduction of tougher penalties for using a handheld phone at the wheel, we know police forces are running regular targeted campaigns to catch offenders – so one way of reading these new figures is to say that this activity, at least in some parts of the country, is beginning to yield results.
“But the flipside to this is the possibility that enforcement levels are still much lower than they need to be to stamp out this illegal activity.
“We believe the low overall numbers still represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real numbers of drivers who are using a handheld phone while driving. Our research suggests that there is still a hard core of more than nine million motorists that think it’s acceptable to text, talk or even take video while they are meant to be focused on driving.”