Road Safety News

RAC calls for more action to tackle mobile phone offenders

Monday 19th October 2015

The RAC has expressed concern over “a worrying mismatch” between the level of mobile phone offences motorists see happening on the roads, and the number of prosecutions.

The RAC points to figures which show that while significantly fewer motorists are being prosecuted for using a mobile phone while driving, DfT stats indicate the number of people using a mobile phone at the wheel has remained consistent.

In 2014, there were 17,414 prosecutions for mobile phone offences in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales - 15,157 fewer than in 2009, which equates to a 47% reduction.

In contrast, a DfT study earlier this year found that 1.6% of drivers in England were observed using a mobile phone during 2014, slightly up from 1.4% in 2009.

The RAC attributes the mismatch to cuts in roads policing, and also cites statistics which show mobile phone use is increasingly a contributory factor in collisions; in 2014, 492 accidents were deemed a result of a driver using a phone, an increase of 40% on 2010.

Pete Williams, RAC head of external affairs, 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.

“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.

“With budgetary constraints, roads policing 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?”

The RAC is also calling for greater public awareness of the dangers of using a mobile phone while driving.

Pete Williams added: “Is there 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.”


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One factor that may have been missed here is that there is an NDORS diversion course for drivers observed by police using a mobile phone whilst driving. These offences are not included in any prosecution figures. These are deliverd in Essex and I would estimate that in 2014/15 this accounted for up to 3,500 drivers. These courses are delivered throughout England and Wales.
Grahame Essex

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I'm a School Crossing Patrol Warden (aka "Lollipop Lady"). I love my job but I am getting more and more scared when in the road in case a driver is so engrossed with their phone when driving. I have reported offenders quoting their registration numbers to the police many times. All I get told is a police officer has to witness phone use while driving. So they get away with it every time.
Hilary, Leeds.

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One static manned speed camera van can detect far more offences than several police vehicles on patrol. No risky pursuits either. Why go round looking for offenders when they can come to you?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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I agree with everyone, but have to point out that with huge cuts in officer numbers coming soon, it can only get worse.

So here is a serious suggestion - close down speed cameras and the huge industry paid for by fines and awareness course fees, and then apply a fixed surcharge - around £10 - to every road tax to bring in the same annual total, to be ring-fenced for police patrols that are effective.
Idris Francis Fight Back With Facts Petersfield

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Although David doesn't see many traffic cars around, that doesn't mean they aren't doing something somewhere - and not necesesarily in a vehicle saying 'police' on the side.
However many there actually are, it would take a heck of a lot of police officers to spot and deal with all the offences taking place on the road - they can't deal with them all, so perhaps readers would like to suggest a priority list of who and what the police should be targeting, that can only be done manually and not by cameras. Also, why does it have to be traffic police - any reason why non-traffic police can't deal with fairly obvious offences?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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There is so much to be learnt from the study of why people continue to use mobile phones when they are driving whilst at the same time being fully aware of the dangers and the possibility, however slight, of getting caught.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

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Road Safety GB has frequently expressed concern at the reducing numbers of specialist roads policing officers both publicly and also privately to Government.

Along with the RAC, David Williams at GEM and David in Suffolk, and many others, we are of the firm opinion that the likelihood of being caught directly affects people's decisions as to whether or not they will comply with road traffic laws and also their general driving behaviour.

Without a clear and regularly visible policing presence, it is human nature for people not to take so much care to consider the traffic laws and other courtesies we all need to exercise in sharing our road network comfortably and safely. And by traffic laws I refer to those relating to safe vehicle maintenance, working headlights, tyres, safe and secure loads and drivers working hours, not just the obvious speed limit ones that usually elicit such predictable responses on this newsfeed.

This is a serious issue and we need Government to take notice of what so many organisations, communities and individuals are all saying – that we want our roads to be properly policed.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

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It is so rare to see a Traffic Police Officer on our roads today, and it is the fear/likelihood of being caught that stops most people from breaking the law. Therefore, the public use their phones while driving with impunity. As long as our Govt. puts no real value on road safety the situation will continue.
David, Suffolk

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GEM Motoring Assist is also greatly concerned at the items raised in this article and in particular at the reduction in law enforcement on our roads. We totally agree with the RAC that urgent action is needed to deter drivers from using mobile phones and that levels of road policing need to be significantly increased.
David Williams MBE Chief Executive GEM Motoring Assist.

Agree (12) | Disagree (2)

There's a 'worrying mismatch' between all sorts of offences being committed and their apparent detection (or not) - not just 'phone use. Even with more police, they can't be everywhere and it's a question of them being in the right place at the right time. Even offences witnessed by the police may not necessarily be dealt with anyway.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (13) | Disagree (2)