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Number of drivers caught using handheld phone falls by 11%

mobile phone penalties, driving while using mobile phone, SmartWitness mobile phone survey.

The number of drivers caught using a handheld phone while driving fell by 11% in the three months after the introduction of tougher penalties compared to three months 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."

Williams suggested that the low overall numbers represent "the tip of the iceberg".

He said: "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.

Cases of use hand-held mobile phones by police forces

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%

 

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