Motoring groups believe a drop in the number of roads police officers means many drivers are not deterred from using a mobile phone behind the wheel.

In a high-profile case, DIY SOS host Nick Knowles has been banned from driving for six months and fined almost £1,500 for speeding and using a mobile phone behind the wheel.

The presenter appeared before Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court after previously admitting exceeding 70mph in his Range Rover on the A417 Brockworth Bypass, while using his mobile phone on January 28.

Nick Knowles arrives at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court
Nick Knowles arrives at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court (Ben Birchall/PA)

Some 22,800 drivers were handed fixed penalty notices for illegally using a phone in England and Wales in 2017 compared with 121,000 in 2011, Home Office data shows.

The number of full-time dedicated roads policing officers in the same area excluding London fell by 27% between 2010 and 2015.

Concern over mobile phone use by drivers has intensified in recent years following high-profile cases and research indicating the practice is widespread.

Fixed penalty notices for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving
(PA Graphics)

Lorry driver Tomasz Kroker was jailed for 10 years in October 2016 after smashing into stationary traffic on the A34 in Berkshire while distracted by his phone, killing a mother and three children.

Since March 2017, motorists caught using a hand-held phone have faced incurring a minimum punishment of six points on their licence and a £200 fine – up from the previous penalty of three points and £100.

Drivers can lose their licence if they receive 12 points within three years, or six points in the first two years after passing their test.

RAC research published in March indicated that a number of drivers changed their behaviour in the months after harsher punishments were introduced, but many are “returning to their old ways”.

Nearly half (47%) of drivers aged 25-34 admitted making or receiving calls with a handheld phone while behind the wheel, the survey of more than 1,800 motorists indicated.

This was up seven percentage points year-on-year.

Some 29% of respondents aged 35-44 admitted using a phone to send texts, post on social media or check emails while driving, up 10 percentage points on the previous year.

Latest Department for Transport figures show that 43 people were killed and 135 were seriously injured in crashes on Britain’s roads in 2017 in which a driver using a mobile was a contributory factor.

A study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that drivers’ reaction times are twice as long for those who are texting compared with those who have been drinking.