Motorists using phones while driving 'down by 47%'

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The number of motorists caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel has fallen by almost half in four years, it has been reported.

Over two thirds of police forces across the UK recorded a drop in the number of drivers being stopped for mobile phone use since 2011, with one of England's largest constabularies seeing stops fall by more than 80%.

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The figures were revealed after research suggested illegal mobile phone use by drivers is on the rise and ministers agreed to toughen penalties.

Police officer leaders have blamed the fall in those being caught on a reduction of traffic officers as a result of budget cuts, saying the two go "hand in hand".

Of the 43 police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who were asked by the BBC to release data on mobile phone stops, 37 responded.

The figures showed there were 178,000 people stopped by police in the UK in 2011-12 for using their phones.

This compared to fewer than 95,000 in 2015-16, a drop of just under 47%.

Kent Police saw the biggest drop over the period from 4,496 to 723, a fall of 84%, while Wiltshire Police saw its stops fall from 2008 to 412 between 2011-12 and 2015-16 – nearly 80%.

Jane Willetts, from the Police Federation of England and Wales, told the BBC there were now fewer than 4,000 officers policing the roads – half the figure in 2000.

"The two go hand in hand," she said.

Ten police forces – City of London, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Warwickshire, West Mercia, West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Dyfed-Powys - recorded a rise in cases between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Norfolk Constabulary's figures were the highest for five years, with officers stopping 2,287 drivers in 2015-16 compared to 836 in 2014-15.

Earlier this month the RAC said a recent survey of over 1,700 motorists showed almost one-third (31%) of motorists admitted to using a handheld phone behind the wheel compared to just 8% in 2014.

The proportion of drivers who confessed to sending a message or posting on social media rose from 7% to 19% over the same period.

Some 14% of motorists even owned up to taking photographs or videos with their phone while driving.

The survey prompted an outcry and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling pledged to introduce tougher sanctions for illegal mobile phone use as soon as possible.

Motorists caught using a handheld phone are currently given three penalty points and a minimum fine of £100, but this is set to be increased to six points and £200 under the plans, with tougher penalties for new drivers and drivers of HGVs.

Department for Transport figures show that a driver impaired or distracted by their phone was a contributory factor in 492 accidents in Britain in 2014, including 21 that were fatal and 84 classed as serious.

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