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Police cuts behind fall in drivers being prosecuted for using mobiles, says RAC

A man using his mobile phone while driving (Posed by model/Barry Batchelor/PA)
A man using his mobile phone while driving (Posed by model/Barry Batchelor/PA)

A cut in the number of traffic police officers has led to a significant drop in people being prosecuted for driving while using a mobile phone, the RAC has told the BBC.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice showed the number of drivers convicted of the offence has almost halved to just under 12,000 between 2012 and 2016.

According to the BBC Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire current affairs programme, officers put on double-deckers to catch drivers using their phone at the wheel have sometimes seen so many offenders they cannot record their details quickly enough.

A Freedom of Information request by the Press Association in 2017 found that, in the 10 years from 2007, the number of traffic officers in England and Wales fell by almost a third from 3,766 to 2,643.

Nick Lyes, from the RAC, said: “If thereʼs less police officers on the road enforcing the law, that means thereʼs probably less prosecutions taking place as well.

“We’re concerned that our most recent data shows that bad habits are creeping up again.

“What weʼve got to do in this country is to make the use of a handheld mobile phone whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink- driving.”

Inside Out said driving while on the phone was still a danger motorists were willing to risk, despite a change in the law in 2017 which doubled the penalty points for offenders.

Figures from the RAC show a quarter of motorists admit to talking on a handheld phone while driving, while 40% of drivers admit to texting at the wheel.

The RAC figures also show there were nearly 2,300 crashes caused by drivers using a mobile phone between 2013 and 2017.

In 2017, 33 of these crashes were fatal.

David Kirk, from Horncastle, Lincolnshire, was killed in 2016 when a distracted driver, on her phone, veered on to the wrong side of the road and knocked him off his motorbike.

His widow, Katie Kirk, urged motorists not to drive while using a phone, saying: “I just want people to think. It’s not worth it. What it can do to someone. It’s just stupid.”

Meanwhile, West Yorkshire Police puts officers on a double-decker bus where they can look down at road users and spot those on their phones.

Its officers pass on the drivers’ details to traffic officers in patrol vehicles, but there are sometimes too many drivers seen offending at the same time to catch them all.

Russell Miller, a PCSO with West Yorkshire Police, said: “There was a point when we spotted one (offender) and started to pass on those details.

“Then literally out of the next 10 or 12 vehicles, about 70% were using their mobile phone and we can’t pass those details on and record them quick enough.”

BBC Inside Out in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire is shown on Monday March 4 at 7.30pm on BBC One and will be available on the BBC iPlayer.