The number of new penalty points added to licences of British drivers plunged by 27 per cent in 2017, new figures released by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency reveal.
Motorists were hit with just short of 929,000 endorsements last year, down from 1.27 million in 2016, the DVLA disclosed.
Industry insiders believe increased fines and penalties for motoring offences have helped to kerb some illegal activity behind the wheel. More drivers are hit with a double whammy of punishments than they would have been years before, according to the Home Office.
Points reduction: The number of new endorsements on driving licences fell by over a quarter in 2017, new DVLA stats revealed
The figures were revealed following a freedom of information request submitted to the DVLA by breakdown firm 24/7 Rescue.
In total, licence holders racked up 928,855 new endorsements over the duration of 2017.
It was the first significant decline in penalty points in years, with 1,266,857 new endorsements in 2016 and a similar number of added points for the two years previous.
While a decreasing number of traffic police officers could have an influence on the number of endorsements dropping, experts believe the threat of higher fines and more endorsements, especially for phone use at the wheel, has reduced the number of offenders.
Another FOI request submitted by the breakdown provider to the Home Office earlier this year found that drivers in England and Wales were increasingly likely to be issued with a double whammy of higher fines and endorsements than they would have been in the past.
NUMBER OF NEW ENDORSEMENTS ON LICENCES IN DECLINE
Source: DVLA figures released to 24/7 Rescue as part of FOI request
Between 2011 and 2016, the number receiving both a fine and endorsement – rather than just being hit financially – increased from 1,858,000 to 2,244,000, a 21 per cent spike.
The Home Office’s stats also showed the number of fine-only punishments had dropped from 424,000 to 128,000 in the same five-year comparison.
Ranjen Gohri of 24/7 Vehicle Rescue, said: ‘The increase in drivers being hit with fines and points appears to show that the police are taking a tougher line.
‘Under changes made in 2013, drivers do also face heavier fines for a range of motoring offences.
‘This, you would imagine, is having a positive effect on the amount on infringements being committed by drivers and the penalty points the DVLA has to dish out as a result.’
The punishment for being caught using a handheld device at the wheel was doubled last March from a £100 fine and 3 penalty point to £200 and 6 points. Confused.com said it had a significant impact on the number of offences recorded last year
Some 3million speeding offences were recorded during 2016 by the DfT, which is the highest number since 2007 when 3.3million were issued. Many of these drivers would have opted for speed awareness courses instead of endorsements
This is the third report in the last month that has suggested UK drivers are cleaning up their act.
In February, Confused.com said tougher punishment for being caught using a handheld device behind the wheel has seen the number of convictions fall to 30,500 in 2017 from 46,500 the previous year.
The doubling of fines from £100 to £200 and penalty points from three to six for being caught using a phone while driving – first introduced in March last year – is thought to be the catalyst for the decline in offences.
The AA said drivers were also becoming more aware of the insurance implications of having more endorsements on their licence.
The motoring group estimated that a six-point penalty would see insurance premiums immediately jump by up to 40 per cent on policy renewal – if their insurer will continue to provide cover at all – and they would have to pay higher fees for cover for the following five years.
Hone Office stats suggested that drivers are more likely to receive a double whammy of a fine and endorsements for a motoring offence than they were five years ago
Weeks before the Confused.com research, the Department for Transport said in its latest quarterly road casualties report that there had been a five per cent decline in the number of people killed or injured on British roads in the year up to September 2017 compared to the previous 12 months.
TRAFFIC POLICE NUMBERS HAVE FALLEN BY A THIRD IN A DECADE
The decline in the number of penalty points issued could be linked to a fall in policing numbers.
A report by the RAC last July said the number of dedicated traffic officers in England and Wales had fallen by a third in 10 years.
Budget cuts had trimmed traffic police more drastically in the previous five years, with numbers falling 24 per cent between 2012 and 2017, while overall the number is down 30 per cent compared to a decade before.
In 2007 there were 3,766 traffic officers in the forces which responded to the motoring organisation’s FOI request. In 2012 that figure stood at 3,472. By 2017 it had dropped to 2,643.
Greater Manchester Police traffic officer numbers dropped 69 per cent in the past ten years (241 to 75), Nottinghamshire’s fell 56 per cent (138 to 61), while the West Midlands cut numbers by 52 per cent from 384 to 186.
It said: ‘There has been a statistically significant decrease in the number of casualties of all severities in road traffic accidents between the years ending September 2016 and 2017.
‘This indicates that there are a number of factors that have combined together to improve some aspects of safety on Britain’s roads.’
Mr Gohri agreed with the DfT’s claim and believes the statistics show drivers are getting safer as rules become more strict.
‘While you can attribute casualties to improvements in vehicle safety, safer standards among road users will also go a long way to reducing that figure if this trend continues,’ he said.
‘New laws are constantly being introduced as the way people use the road changes — mobile phone usage has been a prime example.
‘While increased penalties act as a strong deterrent, the reduction in endorsements dished out last year can also be attributed to drivers getting used to the dos and don’ts of road safety.’
Endorsable and non-endorsable Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) are used by police as an alternative to court prosecution.
The penalty system was tightened by the government in 2013, with fines increasing for some offences and police being given new powers to deal with others, such as tailgating and middle-lane hogging.
The minimum number of points awarded is two but most endorsable offences start with three, but it can be as many as 11.
Speeding offences, while at a near-record high of 3 million in 2016, would account for many of the new endorsements, though drivers are opting to avoid having additional points on their licence by taking speed awareness courses instead.
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