The number of drivers issued with fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel has dropped by two fifths since the penalties doubled, but the AA has warned that police may be failing to enforce the law.
The AA submitted Freedom of Information requests to all the UK’s 45 police forces. Of the 41 that responded the vast majority reported a fall in the number of FPNs issued, although four forces cracked down on the crime, handing out more penalties in 2017 than the previous year.
Overall the number of FPNs issued for the offence fell from 87,051 in 2016 to 51,787 in 2017, a drop of 40.5%.
However, the AA said that studies that it has carried out suggest that the drop is a mix of road safety campaigns, the doubling of the fine and points, and a lack of enforcement due to traffic officer reductions.
AA president Edmund King said: ‘As we mark the one-year anniversary of the introduction of tougher penalties for using a handheld mobile at the wheel, we are pleased to see that drivers are starting to get the message.
Forces with the biggest year-on-year change
‘Some of the change can be attributed to targeted awareness campaigns which, together with high profile cases of the serious and even deadly consequences of driver distraction, has begun to encourage drivers to think twice before picking up their phone.’
He added: ‘We do however have concerns about the reduction in traffic officers and fear this may have contribute to the fall in FPNs issued.
‘The number of traffic officers has reduced by a third over the past decade. But in order to clamp down on this offence, we want to see more cops in cars enforcing the laws which exist to keep all of us safe on the road.’
The penalty for using a handheld mobile phone at the wheel doubled on 1 March 2017 to six points and a £200 fine. Drivers within two years of passing their test face losing their licence if caught handling their phone at the wheel.
The Department for Transport said more than 26,000 motorists have been caught using a handheld mobile phone while driving in the first year since the new penalties came into force, including 500 novice drivers who have had their licences revoked.
It has launched a new THINK! campaign highlights the chances of being caught using a mobile while driving.