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Drivers caught using a handheld phone falls by 11% after introduction of tougher penalties

Press Release   •   Dec 01, 2017 00:01 GMT

Just over 1,700 fewer drivers were stopped for illegally using a handheld phone while driving in the three months after the introduction of tougher penalties in the spring compared to the three months immediately before, new data seen by the RAC shows.*

In total 14,160 drivers were caught for the offence – which now carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine – between March and May 2017, down from 15,861 who were stopped between December 2016 and February 2017. The RAC collected the data after making a Freedom of Information request to UK police forces, with 38 forces responding.

The sharpest percentage fall in the number of drivers caught was in the City of London police force area with just 41 drivers stopped after the new penalties came in, down from 124 who were caught in the three months prior (a 67% fall). Durham Constabulary stopped 73 drivers, down from 149 (a 51% fall) while Surrey Police caught 279, down from 564 (a 51% fall).

However while 25 forces recorded a fall in the number of drivers caught for the offence of using a handheld phone at the wheel after the new penalties, 11 saw a rise and two saw the number unchanged. Kent Police caught 337 drivers, up from 237 (a 42% rise), Gwent Police caught 79, up from 56 (a 41% rise) and Leicestershire Police caught 134, up from 98 (a 37% rise).

The data comes just months after research for the 2017 RAC Report on Motoring highlighted how a hard core of more than nine million motorists continue to persist using a handheld phone while they are driving. The number admitting to making or receiving calls illegally was at 23%, down from 31% in 2016, but of those questioned about the new penalties 15% - or an estimated 5.3m drivers – said they had not changed their habits at all.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “It is still much too early to tell if the stricter penalties that were introduced in the spring are changing drivers’ behaviour, but these figures perhaps give hope that at least some are starting to get the message that driving and using a handheld phone to talk, text or tweet don’t mix.

“Following the introduction of tougher penalties for using a handheld phone at the wheel from March, we know police forces are running regular targeted campaigns to catch offenders – so one way of reading these new figures is to say that this activity, at least in some parts of the country, is beginning to yield results. But the flipside to this is the possibility that enforcement levels are still much lower than they need to be to stamp out this illegal activity.

“We believe the low overall numbers still represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the real numbers of drivers who are using a handheld phone while driving. RAC research suggests that there is still a hard core of more than nine million motorists that think it’s acceptable to text, talk or even take video while they are meant to be focused on driving. So while we don’t know how many police hours were spent enforcing the law from March, it may be the case that lower numbers of drivers being caught simply reflects a lower level of enforcement in some areas – and the opposite may be true with those forces that caught more drivers.

“The severe cuts in the number of dedicated roads policing officers across the UK, down 27% in the five years to 2015, continues to be a major source of concern. We expect it will be having an impact on enforcement levels – not least because catching people committing the crime of using a handheld phone at the wheel relies on officers observing drivers’ behaviour. There is, as yet, no automated way of catching offenders like there is when it comes to speeding.

“Regardless of the reasons for the fall in offenders being caught, it is clear there is still an enormous job to be done to show to drivers that persist in using a handheld phone that it is both against the law and extremely dangerous.

“The RAC backs campaigns run by a number of national newspapers which draw attention to one of the most topical road safety issues of the 21st century and complement the RAC’s own Be Phone Smart initiative which challenges drivers to rethink their relationship with their mobile phone when in the car and encourages them to make and share a pledge to stay safe and legal at www.BePhoneSmart.uk.” 

Full FOI results:

Police force Drivers caught
Dec 2016 - Feb 2017
Drivers caught
Mar - May 2017
% change
City of London Police 124 41 -66.9%
Durham Constabulary 149 73 -51.0%
Surrey Police 564 279 -50.5%
Dyfed-Powys Police 215 110 -48.8%
Humberside Police 230 152 -33.9%
Hampshire Constabulary 881 590 -33.0%
Cleveland Police 129 90 -30.2%
South Wales Police 153 107 -30.1%
Hertfordshire Constabulary 376 269 -28.5%
Thames Valley Police 1,205 888 -26.3%
Bedfordshire Constabulary 156 117 -25.0%
West Yorkshire Police 603 475 -21.2%
Suffolk Constabulary 396 313 -21.0%
Greater Manchester Police 524 419 -20.0%
Northumbria Police 167 142 -15.0%
Norfolk Constabulary 321 274 -14.6%
Lancashire Constabulary 209 185 -11.5%
Cheshire Constabulary 583 524 -10.1%
South Yorkshire Police 174 157 -9.8%
Merseyside Police 487 447 -8.2%
Cambridgeshire Constabulary 171 163 -4.7%
Metropolitan Police 5,090 4,908 -3.6%
Nottinghamshire Police 137 134 -2.2%
Avon and Somerset 176 174 -1.1%
Essex Police 611 609 -0.3%
Dorset Police 183 183 0.0%
Gloucestershire Constabulary 103 103 0.0%
Northamptonshire Police 82 86 4.9%
North Wales Police 138 157 13.8%
Wiltshire Police 86 100 16.3%
Staffordshire Police 260 305 17.3%
Derbyshire Constabulary 106 130 22.6%
Devon & Cornwall Police 243 314 29.2%
Lincolnshire Police 101 133 31.7%
West Midlands Police 337 459 36.2%
Leicestershire Police 98 134 36.7%
Gwent Police 56 79 41.1%
Kent Police 237 337 42.2%
TOTAL 15,861 14,160 -10.7%

Notes to Editors

* Source: Freedom of Information request to all UK police forces. The two questions asked were: ‘How many drivers were caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel between December 2016 – February 2017 (inclusive)?’ and ‘How many drivers were caught using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel between March 2017 – May 2017 (inclusive)’.

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