The motoring organisation says while its research shows strong support for clamping down on offenders, many drivers view a “lack of enforcement” as the main problem. A view that is somewhat supported by statistics to show the number of roads policing officers is decreasing in the majority of British counties.
The results of a Government consultation on increasing the number of penalty points handed to non-HGV drivers from three to four and raising fines to £150 from £100 are set to be published soon.
But the RAC says while 52% of the 2,100 drivers it polled think offenders should face tougher penalties, 69% do not believe the move would work.
Three-quarters (76%) of the drivers surveyed think using a handheld phone while driving puts lives in danger with nearly as many (68%) saying they wish there were more police officers patrolling the roads to enforce the law.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams says: “There is a very strong feeling from law-abiding motorists that something needs to be done to make drivers stop using their phones while driving.
“But while people want the penalties for committing this offence to be beefed up there is also an acceptance that nothing is likely to change due primarily to a lack of enforcement.
“From 2010 to 2015 England and Wales experienced a 27% decline in the number of roads police officers. The number of fixed penalty notices issued for using a handheld phone while driving reduced dramatically from a high of 125,500 in 2009 to 52,400 in 2012.
“In line with this, our own research has found that motorists believe there is little chance of being caught by a police officer (as opposed to a camera) for a driving offence.”
Mr Williams adds: “Changing this behaviour will only come through a combination of actions. We need more rigorous enforcement of the law, increased penalties that act as a meaningful deterrent and a high profile advertising campaign that makes motorists fully aware of the serious consequences of using a handheld phone at the wheel of a vehicle.”
Among those calling for a greater deterrent, 11% advocate a driving ban. Of those supporting a hike in fines, over a third think offenders should pay £450 or more with one in seven (14%) of the motorists backing a penalty points increase saying driving licences should be endorsed with seven or more.