New figures revealed by the BBC after a freedom of information request show that the number of people caught using phones at the wheel has dropped from 177,900 to 93,606 between 2011-12 and 2015-16. That is a reduction of almost 40 per cent. The majority of the decrease has been seen in the last two years.
The Police Federation says the number of dedicated road traffic officers has been hugely reduced over the last few years. There has been a 23 per cent reduction in the number of full-time equivalent traffic police officers from 5,635 in 2010 to 4,356 in 2014. Reductions have been experienced in 41 of the 43 forces.
The UK government recently confirmed plans to double fines and penalty points for using a phone behind the wheel, but without sufficient officers to enforce this, Brake is concerned even the new tougher penalties may not be seen as a real deterrent.
Twenty-one police forces saw their conviction rate drop by more than half and just two police forces have seen the numbers of people caught increase in that period: Norfolk and West Yorkshire.
Alice Bailey, communications and campaigns advisor for Brake said: “It would be wonderful to think this drop is down to people getting the message about the dangers of mobile phone use, but sadly we don’t think this is the case. A recent report called mobile use behind the wheel ‘an epidemic’, with our own studies showing more half of drivers in some age groups admitting they still use a phone while driving. As our police forces have faced major budget reductions, road traffic officers have too often been seen as a soft option for cuts, they are an essential part of the service and save lives. As the government brings in tougher new penalties for this crime it must make sure it resources our police forces properly so this is a real deterrent.”