Mobile phone prosecutions drop drastically

Fewer motorists are being prosecuted for using their mobile phone while driving than ever before, according to official figures seen by the RAC – with prosecutions down by 47% between 2009 and 2014.

The fall comes despite figures from the Department for Transport showing a persistent number of drivers are still using their phone at the wheel – highlighting a worrying mismatch between what motorists see happening on our roads and what drivers are being prosecuted for.

A motorist caught using a mobile phone is most likely to receive a fixed penalty notice (FPN) from a police officer, as there is currently no technology in use by police forces that automatically detects illegal use. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of FPNs handed to drivers dropped from 123,100 to 52,400 – a fall of 57%.

New figures show prosecutions for offences related to mobile phone use at the wheel have also fallen sharply. In 2014, 17,414 prosecutions were made in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales, which is 15,157 fewer than in 2009. A motorist may be summoned to a magistrates’ court if they ignore or choose to challenge a fixed penalty notice, if they already carry too many points, or if the offence is deemed too serious for a fixed penalty.

Offenders cautioned and defendants proceeded against at magistrates’ courts for offences related to driving while using a mobile phone, England and Wales.

2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 Change: 2009 to 2014
Proceeded against 17,414 19,650 24,414 31,390 35,255 32,571 -47%
Found guilty 16,012 17,472 22,135 28,969 32,547 30,182 -47%
% found guilty 92% 89% 91% 92% 92% 93%

Mobile phone use is increasingly a contributory factor in accidents in the UK – in 2014, 492 accidents were as a result of a driver using a phone, up 40% on 2010.

The findings chime with research conducted for this year’s Report on Motoring, which found over a third of motorists (34%) rank the dangers of drivers using a phone to talk, text or use the internet as one of their top concerns – unchanged on 2014 figures.

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. Drivers are routinely using their phones at red traffic lights, or even while on the move.’

‘We have already highlighted the large reductions in the numbers of full-time roads policing officers affecting many police forces. On average across the country there was a 23% cut between 2010 and 2014 – meaning there are 1,279 fewer officers patrolling our roads. Sadly, therefore, there are now far fewer police to enforce a law that is designed to protect all road users and pedestrians.’

‘With budgetary constraints, roads policing officer numbers are not going to dramatically increase in the near future, but we believe that now is time to halt the decline and stop further year-on-year cuts. We also look to the Government to propose other means of enforcing the existing law. 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. With this the number one road safety concern for motorists, coupled with official data showing fewer people are being caught, there will be an overwhelming frustration that too many drivers are simply getting away with it.’

Legislation was introduced in December 2003 making it illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving or riding a motor vehicle on the road. Currently, drivers caught receive three points on their licence and a £100 fine.