Tougher mobile phone fines scare lawbreaking motorists

The number of drivers caught on their mobile phone drops 39% in 2017, when the punishment doubled to £200 and six points

Posted on 22 Feb 2018

But the amount authorities collected in fines MORE THAN DOUBLED (151%) due to heftier penalties and police declining to offer education awareness courses.
30,500 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued to drivers for using their mobile phone behind the wheel in 2017 compared to 50,000 in 2016.
Offending motorists were slapped with 158,000 points in 2017 as six points becomes the minimum penalty(3).
BUT WHEN IS IT LEGAL? Traffic police inspector answers drivers’ questions on using a mobile behind the wheel in FAQ guide, as one in 10 (11%) complain the law is unclear.

Harsher punishments for using a mobile phone behind the wheel seems to have scared drivers into leaving their phone alone, as the number of offenders on UK roads has dropped 39% in just one year.

The penalty for using a mobile phone behind the wheel doubled to £200 and six points in March 2017(2). And according to new figures obtained by, the driver savings site, through Freedom of Information requests to UK police forces, this has had a serious impact on driver attitudes towards using their phone while driving. In 2017, the number of FPNs issued to drivers dropped to 30,470, from a whopping 49,694 in 2016 – a 39% drop in just 12 months.

And while the law has had the desired effect of reducing the number of people using their phones behind the wheel, it has also led authorities to pocket more money. The figures suggest the amount collected in fines has more than doubled (151%) in 2017. At least £1,207,300 was paid in fines by offenders in 2017(4), up from £481,500 in 2016, due to fines increasing to £200 from March, and police now declining to offer education courses. And with the profit made from these fines increasing, UK roads will benefit from a bit of extra spending. And it isn’t just the fines that will be stinging motorists. With the punishment now seeing offenders served six points instead of three, new drivers will lose their licence. In total, a whopping 157,847 points were dished out to offenders throughout last year, with 23,524 endorsements served for six points(3).

Further research by suggests there are still some grey areas around mobile phones and the law, with more than one in 10 (11%) saying they think the law is unclear. To educate drivers on when they can and can’t touch their phone while behind the wheel, has partnered with Inspector Rob Gwynne-Thomas from South Wales Police Roads Policing Unit, to create an FAQ guide to clear up any confusion on the law. Currently, the law states that holding or touching a mobile phone at any point while driving is an offence, including while stationary, unless it is an emergency(2). But worryingly, more than one in four (27%) don’t know that entering a location in Google Maps, or tapping the phone screen (26%) while behind the wheel is illegal. And more than one in six (17%) don’t think making or answering a non-emergency call via the phone handset is illegal. However, all of these would count as an offence, unless the car is safely parked.

The research by echoes the findings of the investigation, with the punishment seeming to have changed drivers’ attitudes towards the offence. In fact, almost three quarters (73%) of UK drivers say the harsher punishment has deterred them from using their mobile phone while driving, with more than a third (34%) saying they have stopped completely. It is a good thing the punishment for the offence has been tightened, as there are many drivers out there who have admitted to breaking the law at some point. In fact, four in 10 (40%) have read a text and more than a quarter (35%) admit they have answered a call using their handset. Worryingly, one in 15 (7%) have also used social media while behind the wheel.

With so many people admitting they have broken the law, it’s no wonder more than a fifth (21%) of UK drivers have been caught by police at some point. But the sting wasn’t enough to stop some offenders from doing it again. In fact, those caught for the offence went on to be caught twice on average. Most of those caught (22%) say they were using a sat nav app at the time, while nearly one in five (18%) were making or answering a phone call. 

However, the increase in fines isn’t just at the forefront of many driver’s minds, as six in 10 (60%) drivers say they are concerned with the safety implications of using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. And many (50%) drivers point the finger at offenders and believe accidents are mostly caused by distracted drivers. In fact, a whopping eight out of 10 (84%) motorists have seen another driver using their phone behind the wheel, with three quarters (74%) witnessing the offence at least once a week. And when they do, they take matters into their own hands and make a gesture (20%), or beep their horn at them (11%). Almost a tenth (9%) admit they have told off a driver while they were a passenger in the car.

But there are also some drivers that think the law could be a little more relaxed and should only apply when the vehicle is moving (12%). In fact, one in seven (14%) say they think it should be legal to use a mobile phone while stuck in traffic, and one in 10 (11%) say it should be allowed when stationary at traffic lights. But what is certain is that the law has clearly made an impact on UK roads, and almost a quarter (23%) of drivers have found there is more of a stigma of using a mobile phone while driving since the introduction of the new punishment.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at, says: “Since the penalties for using a mobile phone behind the wheel have gone up, it’s encouraging to see it has had the desired effect by reducing the number of motorists committing the offence.

“What’s worrying is so many drivers are still in the dark about what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to using a mobile phone while driving. We’ve set out to clear up where drivers’ stand in relation to the law with the help of the UK traffic police and our FAQ guide.

“Using a mobile phone while driving can have serious consequences, and drivers may forget that being caught committing the offence could damage your driving record and bump up their car insurance premium. And with the average cost of car insurance at £827(5) on average, we’re sure drivers could do without anything which increases this cost. Drivers looking to keep their car insurance costs down should shop around at, where they could save up to £279(6) on their premiums.”


Notes to editors

Unless otherwise stated all statistics were obtained from a survey to 2,000 UK motorists. The survey ran between 14th February and 19th February 2018.
1. issued a Freedom of Information request to the UK’s 45 police forces (of which 34 responded) requesting the following information:
The number of fixed penalty notices issued to offenders for using a mobile phone while driving (endorsement code CU80) in your force area in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to date broken down by month.
The total amount of money (£) in fines issued to offenders for using a mobile phone while driving (endorsement code CU80) in your force area in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to date.
3. issued a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA requesting the following information: 
The total number of penalty points (endorsements) issued to UK drivers for using a mobile phone while driving (code CU80) in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Calculation based on the number of endorsements, multiplied by the number of points per endorsement to get a total number of points issued. 
4. Based on the sums given by the police forces which were able to provide a breakdown of fines.
5.’s Q4 2017 car insurance price index, based on six million quotes in a quarter, revealed the average UK premiums costs £827 – more info at
6. Based on online independent research by Consumer Intelligence during (November '17). 50% of car insurance customers could save £279.

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