Fewer drivers on mobile phones 'caught by police'

A woman on her mobile phone - posed by model Image copyright PA
Image caption Brake, the road safety charity, say up to half of drivers admit using a phone at the wheel

The number of drivers caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel has almost halved in five years, the BBC can reveal.

Some 178,000 people were stopped in 2011-12 by police in the UK, compared with under 95,000 last year.

The National Police Federation said the drop was due to fewer traffic officers.

A road safety charity said too many people still used their mobile phone while driving.

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Media captionAlice Bailey, from Brake, said many motorists were still using their phones while driving

The BBC received responses from 37 of the 43 police forces in the UK under the Freedom of Information Act.

Kent Police had the biggest drop in the number of drivers stopped for using a phone at the wheel, from 4,496 in 2011-12 to 723 in 2015-16 - a reduction of 84%.

'Inane' text message

Cyclist Lee Martin, 48, was killed when he was hit by a van travelling at 65mph on the A31 near Bentley, in Hampshire, in August last year.

His brother Darrell said the driver was writing an "inane" text message behind the wheel - an offence he had been caught eight times for in the past.

"He had nine seconds of clear road that he could see my brother at.

"The text message - think about how inane this is - it was about meeting his mate later and taking his dog for a walk. That's what killed my brother."

"It's horrendous," he said.

The driver, Christopher Gard, from Alton in Hampshire, was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Lee Martin was taking part in an organised cycling event in Hampshire

Ch Con Suzette Davenport, from the National Police Chief's Council, said: "This problem cannot be solved by enforcement alone - we need to build awareness and make it socially unacceptable to use a mobile phone while driving."

Jayne Willetts, from the Police Federation for England and Wales, said: "It's no surprise that our figures have dropped because the number of operational roads policing officers whose core role would be to target the mobile phone offences has significantly dropped as well.

"Since 2000 [the number of officers] has almost halved. The two go hand in hand."

However, Insp Alan Nicholls, from the Sussex and Surrey road policing unit, said the figures could be viewed with "a positive spin".

"It could be people are getting the point and not committing this offence anymore," he said.

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Media captionDriver of 44-tonne truck caught using mobile

Under new rules expected to come in next year, drivers will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fine.

Newly qualified drivers could be made to retake their test the first time they are caught.

Alice Bailey from Brake, a road safety charity, said: "We carried out our own research and found anything between 15 and 50% of people, depending on their age range, admit to using their phone behind the wheel.

"It shows the message hasn't got through."

Steve Gooding, RAC Foundation director, said stiff penalties and "adequate policing which convinces drivers they will be caught" were needed to deter mobile phone use.

"These figures suggest the second part of the equation is missing," he said.

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