The total of fixed penalty notices issued by police forces in England and Wales plunged by 43% between 2014 and 2015, and there seems little likelihood that matters have improved this year.
Tougher penalties are due to take effect next year, thanks in part to pressure applied on the government by the RAC. There has been one tightening-up exercise already, in 2007, following the creation of the offence in 2003.
RAC research released in September showed that the number of motorists that think it is acceptable to make a quick call doubled from 7% in 2014, to 14% in 2016, while a fifth (20%) now believe it is safe to check social media on their phone while stopped in traffic.
And police forces seem unenthusiastic about devoting time and resources to pursuing those who flout the law, if new figures are any guide.
Within the 43% fall, there are wide variations from one force to another in terms of how they performed in 2015 compared with the previous year.
The biggest fall was in the Dyfed-Powys force, which recorded an 86% drop in the number of fixed penalty notices issues, followed by Cleveland police in the North East (down 83%), Suffolk (down 79%), Cumbria (down 77%) and Gwent (down 70%).
At the other end of the scale were the five police services with the largest increases in the issue of fixed penalty notices for using a mobile phone while driving, starting with West Midlands (up 39%), West Yorkshire (up 41%), Essex (up 49%), Gloucestershire (up 59%) and Staffordshire (up 69%).
Both the main police forces in the capital issued fewer notices in 2015 than in 2014. The Metropolitan Police recorded a 59% fall while the City of London Police showed a fall of 22%.
Among other big urban areas, there was a mixed performance. Merseyside Police recorded a 21% decline, while neighbouring Greater Manchester showed a 32% increase.
South Yorkshire recorded a 10% increase while Northumbria, which takes in Tyneside, recorded a 69% fall.
There were differences, too, in the leafy Home Counties. Sussex Police issued 32% more fixed penalty notices while next door, Surrey issued 32% fewer.
RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “Law-abiding motorists who regularly see others using a handheld phone at the wheel, putting lives at risk, want to know that the law is being enforced. With a 27% decline in full-time roads policing officers since 2010 and little chance of an increase in numbers in the near future, we need to see all police forces giving greater priority to the enforcement of this offence.
“And better enforcement needs to be backed up by more driver education about the true dangers of handheld mobile phone use, and a heavyweight road safety campaign akin to that which has been successful in making drink-driving socially unacceptable.”