West Midlands Police sees use of mobile phones whilst driving increase for first time in three years

on November 24, 2016

The number of drivers caught using a mobile phone whilst driving by West Midlands Police has increased for the first in three years, Birmingham Eastside can reveal.

Figures released by the force show that in 2012, over 4,700 notices were issued to drivers, this was followed by a year-on-year decrease with a low point reached in 2014 with just under 2,400 notices issued to motorists. However,  in 2015 the number of notices issued rose for the first time by 11% to over 2,600.

The news comes as police across England and Wales, including West Midlands Police take part in a week-long crackdown dedicated to tackling motorists who use their mobile devices behind the wheel.

Is the rise due to drivers thinking they can get away with it?

In September of this year a new RAC survey asked drivers in Britain if they had committed a motoring offence by using a mobile phone and the results may bring into question the validity of the true number of offences in the West Midlands.

The survey, which polled 1,714 UK motorists saw a 23% increase in the number of motorists admitting to using a phone behind the wheel. Rising from 8% in 2014 to 31% in 2016.

A rise in the number using social media whilst driving was also reported with only 7% admitting to posting or sending a message on social media in 2014, whilst two years later this number has risen by to 19%.

Within those figures, 14% also admitted to taking a photograph or video whilst driving.

When questioned  by the RAC about why people committed these crimes, 7% said they knew they would get away with it whilst 23% claimed it was due to an emergency and 21% said they needed the device to help complete their journey.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams spoke about how there seems to be a concerning amount of drivers who believe the law won’t catch them.

“It is alarming to see that some drivers have clearly relaxed their attitudes to the risks associated with this behaviour but more worryingly is the increase in the percentage of motorists who actually admit to using a handheld device when driving. The fact that drivers have little or no confidence that they will be caught when breaking these laws is a likely contributor to the problem and it is sadly the case that every day most road users see other drivers brazenly using their handheld phones when in control of a vehicle – a sight which should be a thing of the past.

We have a situation where motorists are increasingly worried about the number of other drivers who appear to be hooked on using their smartphones while driving, presenting both a physical and mental distraction and making them a significant risk to other road users and pedestrians.”

In response, we contacted West Midlands Police to see what operations they are planning for the crackdown and to see if they believe that the rise in tickets issued in 2015 are the results of drivers mistakenly believing they could get away with it as suggested by Pete Williams, but they failed to comment on the matter.

I fought the law and the law won?

The freedom of information request also revealed that of those caught, 35% (5,081) chose to attend the retraining course, whilst 16% (2,318) were prosecuted and 12% (1,764) were cancelled.

Only 31%, which represents 4,535 cases ended in a prosecution.

What are the current laws?

Currently if caught, you face three penalty points and a £100 fine.

However, new laws by the government will come into effect in 2017 which will see fine and points doubling over their current rates to six points and £200 for the first time offenders and a further increase to £1,000 and a six-month ban if it’s your second offence.

Whilst they were unavailable to provide new comment on the situation, Alice Bailey from Break, a leading road safety charity in England did speak back in October when Break commenting on the proposed new penalty laws being imposed by the government.

“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. Our own studies showing more than half of drivers in some age groups admit 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.”

This could seriously impact young drivers, who according to the charity Brake, found that 49% of 17-24 year old’s use their mobile phones behind the wheel. Under current laws, if you get six points within two years of passing your test, your licence is automatically revoked. Meaning, that under news phone-driving laws, if caught just once with 24 month of passing your test, then you would lose your licence.

The police, however, did reveal that so far in 2016, the number of fines issued up to the 21st of October was 1,969.

A version of this story first appeared on UK By Numbers

Award-winning journalist based in Birmingham UK. Data Editor @ Birmingham Eastside and owner of @UKbynumbers. Contact me: @Loftysandro or data@birminghameastside.com

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