Data released by the Ministry of Justice last month show that last year just 17,414 prosecutions were launched in magistrates’ courts for drivers using their phone at the wheel, down by 47 per cent from 32,571 in 2009. This is despite Department for Transport figures from 2014 which indicated that more people were observed using a mobile than in 2009.
A 2014 Department for Transport (DfT) study found that 1.6 per cent of drivers in England were observed using a mobile, up from 1.4 per cent in 2009. Drivers were also found to be more likely to be using their phones to text or look at the internet than to make calls.
Despite this, the RAC reports that fewer motorists are being prosecuted for using their mobile phone while driving than ever before. Currently, offenders face a fine of £100 and three penalty points, although earlier this year it was reported that could be doubled to six points and a £200 fine.
The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring found that over a third (34 per cent) of drivers rank the dangers of talking, texting or using the internet on mobiles behind the wheel as one of their top concerns. A spokesman for road safety charity Brake has previously said that the fall in the number of motorists being fined may be due to a "decline in policing resources".
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams 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. Drivers are routinely using their phones at red traffic lights, or even while on the move.
“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 per cent cut between 2010 and 2014 – meaning there are 1,279 fewer officers patrolling our roads. Sadly, therefore, there are now far fewer police to enforce a law that is designed to protect all road users and pedestrians.
“With budgetary constraints, roads policing officer 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?”
We’ve previously reported how a new type of vehicle-activated sign (VAS) that can detect when drivers are using their mobile phones is to be tested in Sussex. However, the VAS cannot currently record the driver's details, which means it will not result in any prosecutions. The manufacturers told road.cc that they have not as yet been asked to develop such a facility.
“The goal for ministers and policy-makers is surely to make the use of mobile phones at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink-driving,” said Williams. “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.”