Road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) says that more police resources need to be devoted to catching drivers who illegally use hand-held mobile phones at the wheel. The appeal comes as the BBC reveals that the number of motorists receiving penalty points for the offence in England and Wales fell by 24 per cent last year.
According to IAM, separate figures from a Department of Transport (DfT) survey suggest that there has been little change in the number of motorists flouting the law in England and Scotland since similar research was conducted in 2009.
The latest figures showed that 1.1 per cent of drivers were seen with a mobile phone in their hand, and a further 0.5 per cent had one to their ear – equivalent, says IAM, to more than 470,000 motorists.
The charity’s director of policy and research, Neil Greig, said: “If 470,000 motorists are using mobile phones illegally and 72,000 tickets and 99,000 courses are being processed, it is a tiny and disappointing response.
“More worryingly neither approach seems to be having any effect on the numbers observed breaking the law.
“Most are still getting away with it. Until the fear of being caught increases we will continue to see drivers taking risks holding mobile devices while driving.”
Figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 Live under a Freedom of Information Request from 36 police forces – a further seven did not reply – in England and Wales found that the number of fixed penalty notices (FPNs) given to drivers for using a hand-held mobile phone are dropping sharply, with a consistent downwards trend.
In 2010, some 122,752 FPNs were issued by the forces in question. But in 2014, the number was just 72,753 – a reduction of around 40 per cent.
In the case of Staffordshire Police, just four FPNs were issued for the offence last year,choosing instead to send offenders on awareness courses to try and get them to change their habits.
One senior police officer admitted that different police forces adopted a different approach to tackling the problem.
Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, who is the road policing lead officer at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said "a number of options" were open to police when people were found using a hand-held phone at the wheel.
She added: "If you are caught doing so, forces will choose what they believe to be the right enforcement action to deter you from doing so again."
Currently, offenders face a fine of £100 and three penalty points, although last year secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin suggested that could be doubled to six points.
A spokesman for road safety charity Brake said that the fall in the number of motorists being fined may be due to a "decline in policing resources".
He said: "We need traffic policing to be made a national priority, so police have the resources to catch and penalise risky multi-tasking drivers, as well as much higher fines to truly deter phone use by drivers," he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.