Police stops for motorists using mobile phones fall by nearly 50% despite increase in offenders

Police stops for motorists using mobile phones fall by nearly 50% despite increase in offenders
A fall in the number of motorists being caught for using their mobile phone behind the wheel is being blamed on budget cuts that have led to a reduction in traffic police officers.

Research from the RAC published in the Report on Motoring 2016 showed that there has been a surge in drivers using their phone to make calls, send messages and even film videos when in the car.

But after a Freedom of Information request made to police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, over two-thirds said they had seen a drop in motorists being stopped for using their phone.

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It comes after official figures revealed a fall in full-time roads police officers in 30 out 42 force areas last year, with the biggest drops in West Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset and Northamptonshire.

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Police officer leaders have now connected the decline in mobile phone stops to dwindling traffic officer numbers, saying the two go “hand in hand”.

The latest findings show that 178,000 people were stopped by the police in the UK in 2011 to 2012 for using their phones.

This compared to fewer than 95,000 between 2015 and 2016 – a drop of just under 47%

Of the 37 police forces that responded to the BBC’s request for information, Kent Police saw the biggest drop over the period from 4,496 to 723.

Similarly, Wiltshire Police saw its stops fall from 2,008 in the period from 2011 to 2012 to 412 in 2015-16.

Jane Willets, from the Police Federation of England and Wales, told the BBC there were now fewer than 4,000 officers policing the roads – half the figure in 2000.

“The two go hand in hand,” she said.

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In contrast to the main findings of the research, however, 10 forces recorded the number of stops between 2014-15 and 2015-16 had risen.

This seems in line with shock RAC findings published earlier this month that showed 31% of drivers today admit to using their phone behind the wheel – up from 8% in 2014.

The poll of more than 1,700 motorists showed there was a similar increase in motorists who said they had sent a text or email when in control of a car, from 7% two years to 19% in 2016.

Even more disturbingly, a proportion of drivers – 14% – owned up to taking photos and videos with their phone, putting themselves and others at risk of serious accident.

As a result of these findings, the Government announced it is to introduce tougher penalties for motorists who are caught using their phones while driving.

The minimum fine will increase from £100 to £200, while the number of penalty points will go up from three to six.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “Handheld mobile phone use at the wheel has reached epidemic proportions, and the right action needs to be taken to make it as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

"While it is positive that the Government has committed to increasing penalties for offenders as a result of pressure from the RAC and others, this will only mean something if those flouting the law get caught.

"Unfortunately, with data showing the number of dedicated roads policing officers in England and Wales is in severe decline – down 27% since 2010 – it is hard to see how this will happen.”

Copyright Press Association 2016. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.