Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone Contents

5Enforcement

23.We have been told time and again that for a law to be effective it must be enforced. The evidence is clear that this is not happening at present. The number of offences for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving that resulted in a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), driver retraining or court action fell by over 30% between 2016 and 2017, and has been falling steadily for the past six years—by more than two thirds since 2011.

Figure 1: Mobile phone motoring offences resulting in FPNs, driver retraining or court action, England and Wales, 2011–17 (thousands)

Source: Home Office, Fixed penalty notices for motoring offences statistics data tables: police powers and procedures year ending 31 March 2018, October 2018

This decline in the number of mobile phone motoring offences resulting in enforcement action has coincided with year-on-year increases in the number of casualties in reported collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor. The disparity between these two trends is shown in the graph below.

Figure 2: Number of mobile phone motoring offences resulting in FPNs, driver retraining or court action (England and Wales), and the number of people killed or seriously injured in road traffic collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor, 2011–17

Source: Department for Transport, RAS50007: Contributory factors: Casualties in reported accidents by severity, Great Britain, September 2018 (and previous editions), and Home Office, Fixed penalty notices for motoring offences statistics data tables: police powers and procedures year ending 31 March 2018, October 2018

24.The Home Office’s annual report on the use of police powers notes that the fall in enforcement “may reflect changing police priorities and activity”.39 The RAC states that “the effectiveness of the deterrent and the increased penalties is being undermined by a lack of enforcement”, citing evidence that in the 10 years to 2017 the number of full-time road traffic officers in England and Wales fell by almost a third from 3,766 to 2,643.40 The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has stated that “Cuts to police funding over several years have inevitably impacted on roads policing capability, with fewer officers available to stop vehicles to provide the education and enforcement required.”41

25.The RAC told us that 7% of drivers use their mobile phone because they do not think they will be caught,42 despite knowing the risks involved. Nick Lyes told us “the most important thing that the Government need to look at is how they are going to enforce the law.”43 He said:

I think the public understand. They are aware that there are penalties and they do not want to be caught. They probably also see a lot in the media and they think there is going to be greater enforcement because the penalties have changed. Unfortunately, they slip back because they think, “Well, I don’t see very many road traffic police enforcing the law, so I’m unlikely to be caught.” They slip back into the bad old tendencies.44

26.We heard that technology could have a more prominent role in enforcement. Dr Gemma Briggs and Dr Graham Hole said that “While some technologies are already available, no significant investment in this area has been made, despite evidence for the benefits to enforcement of technology.”45 Some police forces have been making use of new cameras and other sensors to identify drivers who are using mobile phones.46 Dr Gemma Briggs and Dr Shaun Helman agreed there needed to be massive investment in technology.47 In a 2016 report on road traffic law enforcement our predecessor Committee recommended that the Government fund research into the development and effective deployment of technology to detect illegal mobile phone use while driving.48 The Government’s response was non-committal, and talked more about the potential for mobile phones to be designed with a “driving safe mode” than it did the potential for technology to be used to identify people illegally using their mobile phone while driving.49

27.On 16 July 2019 the then Minister for road safety, Michael Ellis MP, announced plans for a review of roads policing and traffic enforcement.50 This will consider how roads policing currently works, its effectiveness, and where improvements could be made or gaps bridged. The Department for Transport has said that it will be looking at this with the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. The Government has said that a call for evidence will be launched this autumn with findings and recommendations being produced in 2020.

28.If motorists do not believe there will be consequences from breaking the law then many of them will continue to do so. Enforcing the law is essential to ensuring that motorists do not illegally use their mobile phone while driving. There must be a credible threat of offenders being caught. It is concerning that the number of offences resulting in Fixed Penalty Notices, driver retraining or court action have fallen by more than two thirds since 2011, while the number of people killed or seriously injured in collisions where mobile phone use is a factor in the collision has risen. We have heard that more road traffic officers would be the most effective way of increasing enforcement of road traffic offences. However, local authorities and police forces are under significant financial pressure, and the Government therefore also needs to look at alternative means of enforcement. We welcome the Government’s review of roads policing and traffic enforcement, and recommend that—as part of this review—the Government engage with police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners to explore options for improving the enforcement of this offence. This should include looking at opportunities for making greater use of technology, and how increased enforcement can work alongside public awareness campaigns.


40 RAC Motoring Services (RSA0023)

41 Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (RSA0136)

42 RAC Motoring Services (RSA0023)

45 Dr Gemma Briggs and Dr Graham Hole (RSA0062)

48 Road traffic law enforcement, Second Report of Session 2015–16, HC 518, para 50

50 Department for Transport, ‘Roads policing review to improve safety’, 16 July 2019




Published: 13 August 2019