Police cuts 'behind drop in phone-driving charges'

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Media captionKatie Kirk calls for drivers to think about mobile phone use

A cut in the number of traffic officers has led to a reduction in prosecutions for drivers caught using a mobile phone, according to the RAC.

Home Office figures show convictions dropped by about two-thirds, from about 162,000 in 2011 to 53,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile, the number of traffic officers fell from 3,766 to 2,643 between 2007 and 2017.

The RAC said: "If there's less police officers there's probably less prosecutions taking place as well."

Despite the reduction in the number of officers, revealed in a 2017 Freedom of Information request by the Press Association, officers from West Yorkshire Police said they sometimes saw so many offenders that they could not record their details quickly enough.

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Image caption Almost 2,300 crashes were caused by drivers using a mobile phone between 2013 and 2017

Nick Lyes, from the RAC, said: "We're concerned that our most recent data shows that bad habits are creeping up again.

"What we've got to do in this country is to make the use of a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving."

Figures from the RAC show a quarter of drivers admit to talking on a hand-held phone while driving; and 40% of drivers admit to texting at the wheel.

The RAC figures also show there were almost 2,300 crashes caused by drivers using a mobile phone between 2013 and 2017.

In 2017, 33 of these crashes were fatal.

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Image caption Motorcyclist David Kirk was struck head on by a car that had veered on to the wrong side of the road

Katie Kirk's husband David, 26, died in 2016 when he was knocked off his motorbike by a driver who was distracted while making a hands free-call.

Mrs Kirk, from Horncastle, Lincolnshire, urged motorists not to drive while using a mobile phone.

She said: "I just want people to think. It's not worth it. What it can do to someone. It's just stupid."

'Too many' offenders

West Yorkshire Police places officers on a double decker bus to look down at road users, watching for people on their phones.

Its officers pass on the drivers' details to traffic officers in patrol vehicles, but sometimes there are too many drivers seen offending at the same time to catch them all.

Russell Miller, a PCSO with West Yorkshire Police, said: "There was a point when we spotted one [motorist on their phone] and started to pass on those details.

"Then literally out of the next 10 or 12 vehicles, about 70% were using their mobile phone, and we can't pass those details on and record them quick enough."

The Home Office said it had given forces the biggest increase in police funding since 2010.

"The settlement proposes a funding increase of up to £970m in 2019/20, including money raised through council tax," it said.

"How road traffic offences are enforced are operational matters for the police, while decisions on the size and composition of a force's workforce are for chief constables and police and crime commissioners."

See more on BBC One Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Inside Out on Monday, 4 March, at 19.30 and on the iPlayer after broadcast.

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