POLICE Scotland have been criticised after figures show the number of drivers caught recklessly using mobile phones behind the wheel have halved.
New figures show that 50% fewer drivers were caught making calls or texting behind the wheel in the last year, compared to the year before.
Police chiefs have hailed this as a success, saying it is proof of a radical change in driver behaviour.
But critics and road safety advocates have pointed out that road deaths are on the rise, and behaviour is unlikely to have changed so much in one year alone.
Now they have criticised the force – saying that the declining figures are evidence of a reduction in the number of frontline traffic officers policing the roads for such offences.
The figures, from the Recorded Crime in Scotland report, show that there were 196,000 motor vehicle offences recorded in 2014/15 – down 33% on the year before.
It revealed a 50% drop in the number of recorded mobile phone offenses at the wheel – an offense which research suggests is more dangerous than drink driving.
The report also showed that there has been a dramatic decline – of 59% – in the number of individuals caught not wearing a seat belt.
Both figures had steadily risen over the previous five years.
Graeme Pearson – a former senior police officer, now Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman – has written to Police Scotland, asking for an explanation.
He said: “As far as I’m aware there has been no sea of change in the behaviour of drivers.
“Everyone hasn’t suddenly started obeying the rules of the road.
“I would like to know if it points to fewer officers being out on the streets.”
Neil Greig, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, has now asked whether cash-strapped Police Scotland are prioritising traffic offences as they make cuts to frontline services.
He said: “There is no evidence to suggest the problems of mobile phone usage and failure to wear seatbelts have changed overnight, as these figures seem to suggest.
“I’d like to know how many road traffic officers Police Scotland had out during this time.”
Before the introduction of a national force in April 2014 Scotland employed 392 police traffic safety officers across the country.
But Police Scotland now refuse to reveal the number of officers on the streets – citing “operational issues.”
Head of road policing for Police Scotland, Chief Superintendent Iain Murray, said: “Last year, management information showed that road police officers stopped 292,591 vehicles – more than one every two minutes – and identified 167,357 offences.
“This year, there has been a further increase in the number of vehicles stopped by officers. This, combined with the heartening statistics that show last year there was a record low number of injury collisions on Scotland’s roads, make me believe driver behaviour is changing.”