Driving advice Fining and educating drivers

Police response

We contacted each of the UK’s 52 police authorities asking for every offence relating to mobile phone use while driving between January 2007 and July 2012. We also asked each force to tell us how each offence was resolved.

Not all forces responded, but the data we did receive shows that the majority of offences (420,000) were dealt with by a fixed penalty notice (FPN), which meant the offenders paid a fine and received three points on their licence. Another 80,000 – including drivers who refused to pay the fines and those who committed more serious offences – were taken to court, where they faced disqualification and a fine of up to £1,000.

Regional differences

To get a better idea of how each police authority is enforcing the law, we calculated the percentage of drivers fined or sent to court in each region. 

One force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, fined a higher percentage of drivers than any other - no fewer than 4.3% of drivers were fined for using a mobile phone between 2007 and July this year. A spokesperson for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the force was not happy with the high number of offences, and that it is looking at alternatives to issuing fines. 

At the other end of the table is Thames Valley Police, which fined just 0.3% of drivers. 

See a map of how the penalties for mobile phone use vary by region

The value of education

Just 11 of the 52 forces we spoke to told us they offered any kind of awareness course for those caught using their phone at the wheel. In total, fewer than 47,000 people were offered the chance to join an awareness course. Drivers pay for these courses, which are run at the discretion of individual forces, to avoid receiving points on their licence.

Thames Valley is one authority that does run an awareness course specifically for mobile phone offences. More than 30,000 motorists have attended it since the start of 2007, which may explain why so few drivers were fined in the region.

The force’s two-and-a-half hour Call Divert course costs drivers £78.64, and aims to show the potential consequences
of using a handheld phone while driving.

Cases that went to court

We also asked how many cases relating to mobile phone use were eventually dealt with in court. There was much less variation between different regions. The low national average of around three drivers in 1,000 being taken to court suggests drivers prefer to pay a FPN, rather than risk court proceedings.

Other sections in this guide

  1. Overview
  2. How dangerous is texting and driving?
  3. Fining and educating drivers