THE NUMBER of motorists fined for using their mobile phone at the wheel fell sharply last year amid concern that police are turning a blind eye.
Nearly 17,000 people were given a £100 fixed-penalty notice after being caught driving while using a phone, a fall of 43% on the previous year. Five years ago the figure was 123,000, according to police data for England and Wales.
Campaigners fear the lower figures reflect a fall in the number of offenders being caught, rather than safer behaviour by motorists.
According to research by the RAC, 14% of drivers now believe it is acceptable to make a quick call; in 2014 the figure was 7%. A fifth believe it is safe to check social media on their phone while stationary in traffic.
Pete Williams, a road safety spokesman at the RAC, said that fines had “fallen off a cliff” after reaching a high of 166,000.
“The figures lay bare the scale of the handheld mobile phone epidemic that has been allowed to sweep the country largely unchallenged,” he said. “The problem of illegal handheld phone use at the wheel is undeniably getting worse, with fewer and fewer people being caught.”
Earlier this autumn a van driver was jailed for killing a cyclist while reading a text message. Christopher Gard, 30, from Alton in Hampshire, already had eight convictions for using his phone at the wheel. Six weeks before ploughing into the father of two at 65mph, he had successfully pleaded with magistrates not to disqualify him, promising to lock his phone in the boot of his van.
At the end of last month Tomasz Kroker, a lorry driver, was jailed for 10 years after killing a mother, her two sons and the daughter of her partner. Sunday Times subscribers can read, here, Oliver Thring’s interview with her partner and others whose lives have been shattered by the tragedy.
Motorists caught using a handheld phone are given three penalty points and a minimum fine of £100, but this is to be increased to six points and £200 next year.
Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “As with drink-driving, we have to work towards changing people’s attitudes. We measure success not only in terms of the number of offenders caught, but also by driving behaviours changed. This problem cannot be solved by enforcement alone.”
This article first appeared in The Times