More drivers using mobiles – but fewer getting caught

12.00 | 28 September 2016 | | 5 comments

The number of drivers caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel has almost halved in five years, new figures obtained by the BBC have revealed.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to UK police forces shows that 178,000 people were stopped in 2011-12, compared with fewer than 95,000 in 2015.

Kent Police saw the biggest drop over the five year period, from 4,496 in 2011-12 to 723 in 2015-16 – representing a reduction of 84%.

The BBC received responses from 37 of the 43 UK police forces following its FOI request.

The figures are apparently at odds with those published recently by the RAC which suggest use of mobile phones while driving is now at ‘epidemic proportions’.

A survey carried out by the breakdown organisation suggests that as many as 11m motorists may be making or receiving calls while driving, while a ‘shocking’ five million may be taking photos or videos while at the wheel of a moving vehicle.

The National Police Federation says the reduction in the detection rate is due to fewer traffic officers.

Jayne Willetts, Police Federation for England and Wales, told the BBC: “It’s no surprise that our figures have dropped because the number of operational roads policing officers whose core role would be to target the mobile phone offences has significantly dropped as well.

“Since 2000 [the number of officers] has almost halved. The two go hand in hand.”

In May, the RAC published figures which show that the number of full-time roads policing officers in England and Wales has fallen by 27% since 2010.

The figures followed a Parliamentary report into the enforcement of road laws which concluded that the falling number of recorded crimes on Britain’s roads does not represent a reduction in offences being committed.

The Transport Committee report found, instead, that motoring offences are failing to be detected due to a decline in the number of specialist traffic police officers.

In response to the figures, Brake has called for urgent investment in road policing.

Alice Bailey, Brake’s communications and campaigns advisor, said: “Road traffic officers have too often been seen as a soft option for cuts, they are an essential part of the service and save lives.

“As the government brings in tougher new penalties for this crime it must make sure it resources our police forces properly so this is a real deterrent.”

The illegal use of mobile phones is a hot topic at present with reports that the penalty for the offence is to double from three points and a £100 fine to six points and a £200 fine.

Although there has been no official government announcement, the new penalties are expected to come into force in the first half of 2017.

Photo credit: Phillip Leconte via Flickr. Use under Creative Commons.



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    Peter’s comment and that of the Police Fed suggests that somehow it is only traffic officers who are qualified or skilled enough to recognize when a driver is using their ‘phone. If humble road safety officers can spot them, I’m sure the non-traffic police, whether on foot or in cars, can do too. The only thing I would add is that years ago when mobile ‘phones could only be used for talking, it was more noticeable i.e. hand to ear, but now, their usage can be discreet, however, whilst the ‘phone can’t be as easily seen, the driver’s head and eye movements can give it away.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    I am baffled by the number of apologists for phone use while driving.

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    The answer is in the 7th paragraph.
    “The National Police Federation says the reduction in the detection rate is due to fewer traffic officers.” What a surprise!

    Peter city of Westminster
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    Look at the ‘photo above Charles! Notice anything? Driver’s eyes looking down at the screen, both hands off the wheel. Do you want him/her driving behind you? Yes it might be a stationary vehicle, but I’ve seen it happening on the move many times. The ‘phone is held low so it can’t easily be seen. If and when a collision ensues, unless there’s a witness, the police can’t know for sure if the driver was ‘otherwise engaged’ and I doubt if the driver would say “yes it was my fault actually.. I was on the ‘phone” anymore than they would admit to speeding.

    It doesn’t take a genuius to see a link between ‘phone use and driver error causing collisions.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    “More drivers using mobiles – but fewer getting caught”… and conspicuous by its absence from that news is what the consequential net effect on road safety is. I don’t recall an epidemic of road casualties to correlate with the epidemic of phone using drivers. Is there perhaps a flaw in the as yet unproven theory that there is a causal relationship between phone use frequency and casualty frequency? Or perhaps there is some unknown phenomenon cancelling out the effect by reducing casualties at exactly the same rate that mobile phone use is increasing them.

    Charles, England
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