An investigation by IAM RoadSmart, one of the UK’s biggest independent road safety charities, has found that more than a third-of police forces are using their mobile safety camera vans to prosecute drivers not wearing seatbelts or using a handheld mobile phone.
The information comes from a Freedom of Information request submitted to 44 police forces which found that 16 of them use the pictures from the cameras in their vans to pursue these offences as a matter of routine, and a further four do so occasionally.
With 80% of drivers telling us that driver distraction from phones has got worse in the last three years this can only be good news for road safety. IAM RoadSmart surveys also show that drivers put enforcing mobile phone laws in second place behind drink and drug driving as a road traffic policing priority. Seatbelt use is in sixth place but it is well established that those not wearing a seatbelt are much more likely to die or be seriously injured in a crash.
IAM RoadSmart’s Freedom of Information research found that the 16 police forces that routinely use their safety cameras to seek out other offences recorded more than 8,000 unbelted drivers between them and around 1,000 with a mobile in their hand in 2016 (three police forces provided a category called “other offences” which totalled about 500 in 2016).
Some police forces had reservations about using safety cameras or camera vans to record non-speeding offences. Questions still need to be resolved completely around Home Office Type and image quality for successful prosecution.
Sarah Sillars, IAM RoadSmart Chief Executive Officer, said: “Drivers should be reassured that the police are using all the tools in their road safety toolkit to address their top worries. For too many drivers it is only the fear of being caught that will stop them putting themselves and others at risk from smartphone distraction. Not wearing a seatbelt also puts an unfair burden on our emergency services who have to deal with the aftermath of such selfish behaviour. If drivers don’t know about this added enforcement technique then its impact will be reduced so the police should have no hesitation in publicising its use.”
She added: “Our research shows that the use of mobile safety camera vans to pursue phone users and seatbelt offenders varies from one force to another. What we need are clear and consistent guidelines on what the cameras are being used for, what training staff are being given and how the images are being used as evidence. The last thing we want to see are resources being wasted or the road safety message being diluted by careless drivers being acquitted.”