By Adam Snow, PhD student, Criminology
According to reports out recently we are in the midst of a retreat from road policing enforcement of mobile phone use behind the wheel, although some novel ideas (ironic font) are being used. I leave aside the serious claim made by Suzette Davenport, the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, that enforcement is being back peddled due to the upcoming election. If true this a very serious accusation and one that shouldn't be ignored given the person making the accusation.
I wondered, being a curious type and someone who is interested in road policing, whether there is evidence of a regulatory retreat (for want of a better word). I am used to hearing claims made about speeding enforcement of a retreat, or lowering of police / partnership interest in speeding enforcement. Those claims are largely false based on incomplete data, since generally such claims fail to take into account the spectacular rise of Speed Awareness Courses, which are now the most common form of "punishment" for speeding motorists. Overall speeding enforcement hasn't reduced if one factors speed awareness courses in.
Unfortunately, there are no statistics on the number of driver awareness courses in respect of mobile phone use. Certainly they are used but we have no data to understand the extent to which they are used. Looking at fixed penalty and prosecution data we can see that such enforcement action is reducing.
One can see from this chart that there has been a reduction in official actions in respect of mobile phone driving since 2010. Unfortunately 2013 statistics have yet to be published on FPNs, quite why this is so is beyond me, we are now approaching the end of the 2014/15 financial year and are still waiting 2013 statistics! Over the period 2009-2012 prosecutions ran at an average of 21.5% to FPNs, giving an estimated number of FPNs of 91,395 (based on actual 19,650 prosecutions in 2013). This gives a grand total of 111,045 a total reduction of 1270 or 1.23% reduction. Hardly a great reduction on the previous year, although the reduction over the lifetime of this parliament appears to be a 30.6% reduction over all.
This reduction comes at a time of increasing use of mobile phones behind the wheel according to a DFT survey. Sadly what we still don't know is what reduction in prosecutions and fixed penalty notices is accounted for by driver awareness courses. Certainly it would be in the government's interest to collect and publish this data in order to counter the claims of the Chief Constable, without doing so it risks creating a perception that roads policing is not a priority, as evidenced by recent claims that the government were undermining road traffic policing.
Once this data is made available then we can begin to ask, and answer, some of the more interesting questions about the efficacy of such courses, and whether road policing really is a priority at present. Come on the Home Office get your data published!
This is a cross post from the Road Traffic Law and Regulation Blog