The RAC has discovered prosecutions for using a mobile phone while driving have fallen by almost half between 2009 and 2014 – despite Department for Transport figures showing drivers are still using their phones behind the wheel as much as they ever have.
This, says the RAC, shows a “worrying mismatch between what motorists see happening on our roads and what drivers are being prosecuted for”.
The law making it illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel was introduced in December 2003; the penalty is currently three points and a £100 fine.
In 2014, 17,414 drivers were prosecuted for using a mobile phone in magistrates’ courts – that’s 15,157 fewer than in 2009.
Motorists are only summoned to court if they ignore a fixed penalty noticed issued by police (and more than 9 in 10 are usually found guilty). This is the most likely penalty for using a mobile phone while driving; here, the fall is even greater, with 57% fewer fixed penalty notices being issued in 2013 than 2011.
The numbers are stark – 123,100 fixed penalty notices for mobile phone use were issued in 2011, falling to 52,400 in 2013.
Despite this plunge in prosecutions, Department for Transport figures show mobile phone use while driving remains unchanged; in 2014, 1.6% of motorists (more than 500,000 drivers) were observed using a mobile phone, compared to 1.4% in 2009.
‘Enormous gulf’ between law and reality
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.”
This, explained Williams, is because of large reductions in the number of traffic cops – down an average of 23% across the country between 2010 and 2014, “meaning there are 1,279 fewer officers patrolling our roads”.
More traffic police would help better impose the law, but Williams has other suggestions too. “Can technology play a greater role in helping catch offenders? Is there also 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,” added Williams.
There is an “overwhelming frustration that too many drivers are simply getting away with it”. Do you agree? Let us know.