The RAC has expressed concern over “a worrying mismatch” between the level of mobile phone offences motorists see happening on the roads, and the number of prosecutions.
The RAC points to figures which show that while significantly fewer motorists are being prosecuted for using a mobile phone while driving, DfT stats indicate the number of people using a mobile phone at the wheel has remained consistent.
In 2014, there were 17,414 prosecutions for mobile phone offences in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales – 15,157 fewer than in 2009, which equates to a 47% reduction.
In contrast, a DfT study earlier this year found that 1.6% of drivers in England were observed using a mobile phone during 2014, slightly up from 1.4% in 2009.
The RAC attributes the mismatch to cuts in roads policing, and also cites statistics which show mobile phone use is increasingly a contributory factor in collisions; in 2014, 492 accidents were deemed a result of a driver using a phone, an increase of 40% on 2010.
Pete Williams, RAC head of external affairs, said: “There is still an enormous gulf between what the law states – that handheld mobile phones should not be used behind the wheel – and what motorists see happening on our roads.
“We have already highlighted the large reductions in the numbers of full-time roads policing officers affecting many police forces. On average across the country there was a 23% cut between 2010 and 2014 – meaning there are 1,279 fewer officers patrolling our roads.
“With budgetary constraints, roads policing numbers are not going to dramatically increase in the near future, but we believe that now is time to halt the decline and stop further year-on-year cuts.
“We also look to the Government to propose other means of enforcing the existing law. Can technology play a greater role in helping catch offenders?”
The RAC is also calling for greater public awareness of the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.
Pete Williams added: “Is there a role for a national public awareness campaign on the dangers of using a phone at the wheel, similar to the hard-hitting campaigns which have helped stigmatise drink-driving?
“The goal for ministers and policymakers is surely to make the use of mobile phones at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
“With this the number one road safety concern for motorists, coupled with official data showing fewer people are being caught, there will be an overwhelming frustration that too many drivers are simply getting away with it.”