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Most common motoring offences for England & Wales

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August 6, 2020
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In this article, we report the latest trends in motoring offences in England and Wales, based on data published by the Ministry of Justice. We also take an in-depth look at drink and drug-related offences, insurance offences and mobile phone offences. 

In 2019, the most common offences were: ‘speed limit offences’, ‘vehicle registration and excise licence offences’ and ‘failing to supply information as to identity of driver when required’. The latter offence replaced ‘using a motor vehicle uninsured against third party risks’ to claim a top-three position. 

In 2019, the total number of offences committed was very similar to 2018 – only a 1.1% increase. However, there were changes to how often different types of offences were committed. 

Top 20 motoring offences

The chart below shows the 20 most common driving offences in 2019 and whether they have seen a year-on-year increase or a year-on-year decrease.

motoring offences

Of the areas that we have reviewed below in detail, ‘using a motor vehicle while not insured’ is the most common motoring offence, accounting for 12.5% of all offences in 2019. This is more than twice as many offences as the top drink-driving offence, with just 5.0% by comparison. However, uninsured driver offence numbers have been falling over the past three years. The top drug driving offence, by comparison, has increased over the three years – from 0.8% in 2017 to 1.5% last year – and drink-driving offences are relatively stable.

Key findings

  • Drug-related offences have increased by 412% over five years
  • Mobile phone offences at the lowest rate in 10 years, although fines of £500+ are increasing for this crime
  • The number of uninsured drivers decreased for the first time since 2015
  • Cases of keeping a vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements dropped to less than 70k for the first time since 2016.
  • Only 54 offences of making false statements or withholding information to obtain insurance were recorded in 2019, 81% less than in 2010.

Regional key findings

  • Essex has the highest rates of mobile phone offences (0.43 offences per 1,000 people), although Durham and West Yorkshire have seen the biggest increases from 2018
  • Greater Manchester has the lowest rates of mobile phone offences (0.04 per 1,000)
  • West Yorkshire has the highest rates of uninsured driving offences (2.58 per 1,000), although the total number of offences for the region has reduced from 2018
  • Staffordshire had the biggest decrease in uninsured driving offences from 2018 to 2019 (-38%) while Kent had the biggest increase (38%)
  • Sussex has the highest rates of offences related to keeping a vehicle without proper insurance requirements (9.72 per 1,000) but the lowest rates for driving while uninsured against third-party risks (0.7 per 1,000)
  • Merseyside has the highest number of drug-driving offences (0.72 per 1,000) but a below-average rate of drink-driving offences
  • The West Midlands has the lowest rates of drug-driving offences (0.07 per 1,000), although West Mercia has achieved the biggest decrease between 2018 and 2019
  • North Wales has overtaken Lincolnshire as the region with the highest rate of drink-driving offences (0.92 per 1,000) while the Metropolitan region has the lowest rate with just (0.45 per 1,000).

motoring offences

Driving under the influence

There are 14 different types of motoring offence related to drinking or taking drugs, from being caught over the prescribed limits to causing death while driving under the influence: 

  • Four of these offences are relevant to alcohol use and account for 74.1% of all drinking and drug-related motoring offences  
  • Seven relate to drug-related offences and account for 25.8% of all drink/drug offences
  • Three relate to either alcohol or drugs and account for less than 0.1% of drink/drug offences.

The National Travel Attitudes Survey 2019 found that 60% of the general public believe that drink driving and drug driving have increased between 2015-2019, and the data we have analysed confirms that this is true for drug related motoring offences. The total for all offences related to ‘driving under the influence’ shows an 18% increase between 2015-2019. 

motoring offences

Although drug driving only accounts for around a quarter of alcohol or drug-related motoring offences, there has been a notable increase in cases. From 2015 to 2019, there has been a phenomenal 412% increase in drug driving. 

This could be related to a general increase in drug misuse. Data from NHS Digital shows an upward trend in drug-use since 2015/16 in England and Wales: in 2015/16, it was estimated that 8.3% of the population had taken an illicit drug compared to 9.4% in 2018/19. The Home Office also showed that ‘frequent’ drug users (aged 16-59) are at their highest level since 2015/16. 

While drink-driving offences are more common than drug-related offences, there was a slight fall (-7%) between 2015-2019. This is in line with the downward trend reported by NHS Digital in the number of men drinking more than the eight units and women drinking more than six units in a single day. However, the latest figures on this are from 2017, and the motoring offences data shows a slight increase in alcohol-related driving offences in 2018 and 2019. It remains to be seen whether general alcohol usage has followed this trend.

Regional trends

Drug driving

The average drug driving rate across England and Wales in 2019 was 0.26 per 1,000 members of the population. In contrast, the worst region for drug driving, Merseyside, saw a rate of 0.72 – more than 173.5% above average. The region also saw a 14.4% year-on-year increase of drug-driver offences, from 902 offences in 2018 to 1,032 offences in 2019. 

In 2019, 97% of drug driving offenders in Merseyside were found guilty, 85% of whom received a fine as punishment. Male drivers accounted for 9 in 10 drug-related driving offences in the region, with 39% of offenders aged 29 or under and 34% were between 30-39. 

It is important to note that police forces will crack down on specific types of offences as part of their annual budget and strategy. Merseyside have not been shy about promoting their success clamping down on drug driving – hailing their Christmas 2019 campaign a big success. 

10 worst regions for drug driving (2019)

Region Rate per 1,000 people
Merseyside 0.72
Dorset 0.64
North Wales 0.62
Cleveland 0.58
Norfolk 0.53
Suffolk 0.47
Essex 0.45
Cumbria 0.4
Durham 0.4
West Mercia 0.36

Out of the top 10 worst areas for drug driving in 2019, Essex had the biggest increase in offences (more than 72.5%). In fact, Essex leapt from 15th worst region in 2018 to 7th worst in 2019. The most improved region was West Mercia, which scored a decrease of almost  16% and dropped 5th to 10th worst region.

The best regional rate was 0.07 per 1,000 – 73% below average – and comes from the West Midlands. This is closely followed by Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Northumbria and Leicestershire.

Drink driving

North Wales, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire were the top three regions for drink-related driving offences in 2019. With a rate of 0.92 per 1,000 people, North Wales is more than 30% above the average rate for England and Wales as a whole (0.7 per 1,000) and overtook Lincolnshire to claim the number one spot in 2019. 

Male drivers were responsible for 7 in 10 drink-related driving offences in North Wales in 2019. 39.2% of the region’s offenders were 40 or older, which is higher than the national average of 35.1%. Almost 97% of offenders were found guilty, 78% of whom received a fine.

10 worst regions for drink driving (2019)

Region Rate per 1,000 people
North Wales 0.92
Lincolnshire 0.9
Northamptonshire 0.86
Durham 0.85
Lancashire 0.84
Norfolk 0.84
Cleveland 0.83
Nottinghamshire 0.82
Cheshire 0.82
Cumbria 0.8

Only seven of the current 10 worst regions for drink-driving offences in 2019 appeared in the top 10 for 2018. Nottinghamshire, currently the 7th worst region for drink-driving offences with 0.82 per 1,000 was in just 17th position in 2018. It saw an increase in offences of around 15%. 

However, the region with the biggest year-on-year increase in drink-driving rates is Bedfordshire. With the best rate in 2018 at just 0.42 per 1,000, Bedfordshire saw an increase of around 30% to a rate of 0.54 per 1,000 in 2019. The best rate for 2019 is now claimed by Metropolitan; perhaps unsurprising, due to the proliferation of public transport choices in the region. 

Interestingly, Merseyside does not appear in the 10 regions listed above, despite their campaign drive mentioned earlier. In fact, with 0.66 per 1,000, the region’s drink driving rate is fairly close to average. 

Mobile phone motoring offences

It has been illegal to use a mobile phone while driving since 2003, but this hasn’t stopped everyone from doing it. In fact, between 2010-2019, more than 196,000 offences were recorded in England and Wales. 

It’s worth noting that many people are not aware that they are breaking the law when it comes to using a mobile phone in the car. While most people know that making calls and sending texts from behind the wheel are forbidden, not everyone realises that hands-free kits or having another person hold a mobile on speakerphone can also be classed as offences. If the police believe these actions are taking your attention away from the road, you can still be caught and fined.     

Using or being distracted by a mobile phone behind the wheel was the 10th most common motoring offence in 2019 (with around 87% of offences committed by men.) The good news is that mobile phone offences are becoming less common. Despite a bump in figures in 2017 and 2018, there has been a gradual decrease – 2019 figures are around 68% lower than they were in 2010.

motoring offences

Fines

In 2003, the typical fine for using a mobile phone while driving was just £30. This was increased to £60 in 2007, then pushed up to £200 in 2017. This, in part, reflects the increase in mobile phone ownership – 52% in 2015 versus 88% in 2019 – which has led to the police having to get tougher to prevent serious accidents. 

Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that there has been a steady increase in the number of fines issued for £500 or more. In 2019, 3% of all fines were for more than £500 compared to just 0.2% in 2016. 

The Department for Transport acknowledged before the latest fine increase that higher fines could result in more cases leading to court action – which can result in a fine of up to £1,000, or £2,500 if you’re driving a bus or lorry. The £200 typical fine is high enough that many more offenders will choose to contest their fixed penalty notice. Similarly, those who have passed their driving test less than two years ago can face losing their licence over a mobile phone offence – another good reason for those who believe they were in the right to contest the offence in court. 

Regional trends

Metropolitan took the top spot in 2018 for the region with the highest rate of mobile phone-related offences. However, in 2019, thanks to Metropolitan seeing a decrease of these offences of around 34%, Essex took the number one position, with Suffolk not far behind.  

Despite a year-on-year decrease of more than 8.5% from 2018-2019, the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex notes that the situation in the region is ‘Deteriorating’. While the average rate for mobile phone-related driving offences in 2019 was 0.17 per 1,000, Essex recorded a figure around 2.5 times that at 0.44 per 1,000. Already in 2020, the region has been taking action to combat these high numbers of offences, with a pre-lockdown offensive that caught more than 30 offenders in just 14 days. 

10 worst regions for mobile phone-related driving offences (2019)

Region Rate per 1,000 people
Essex 0.44
Suffolk 0.4
Metropolitan 0.38
West Yorkshire 0.34
Norfolk 0.33
Lincolnshire 0.24
Bedfordshire 0.24
North Yorkshire 0.23
Derbyshire 0.21
Hertfordshire 0.21

The region with the lowest rate of mobile phone-related motoring offences in 2019 was Greater Manchester, which retained the coveted spot from 2018. The region had a rate of 0.4 per 1,000 in 2019 – around 76% less than the average for England and Wales. 

Dyfed-Powys achieved the biggest year-on-year decrease (of around 58.5%) from 2018-2019. It went from the 7th highest rate with 0.27 per 1,000 to the 10th lowest rate with 0.11 per 1,000 in just 12 months. 

Insurance offences

To drive a car both you and the vehicle must have the correct insurance. While there are criminals who knowingly drive a car without insurance or lie to get a cheaper quote, some insurance offences are committed unwittingly. 

For example, did you know that just because your insurance allows you to drive any car, you could still be committing a crime by doing so if the vehicle isn’t covered in its own right? Did you also know that withholding information from insurance providers is classed as an offence, even if you are not deliberately lying? Did you know that keeping an unused vehicle on a public road without insurance is an offence unless you declare it as SORN?  

This section explores the trends of three insurance offences:

  • Using motor vehicle uninsured against third party risks
  • Making false statements or withholding information to obtain insurance
  • Keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements.

General trends

While insurance offences reduced by around 5.5% from 2018 to 2019, there have been more cases in the last five years than the beginning of the decade. From 2010-2014 there was an average of around 125,000 offences per year – this increases to around 160,000 per year for 2015-2019. 

While insurance offences reduced by around 5.5% from 2018 to 2019, there have been more cases in the last five years than the beginning of the decade. From 2010-2014 there was an average of around 125,000 offences per year – this increases to around 160,000 per year for 2015-2019. 

A change in speeding fines in 2015 meant police forces started to benefit financially from speeding convictions, which could have led to more stops. Similar crackdowns on mobile phone offences could also have helped reveal more insurance offences.

Using motor vehicle uninsured against third party risks

‘Using a motor vehicle insured against third-party risks’ was the fourth most common motoring offence in 2019 and male drivers accounted for 85.4% of violations.

The number of infringements fell between 2018-2019 by almost 6% – 95,280 uninsured drivers decreasing to 89,818. However, the biggest dip over the last decade was seen in 2015, when there were only 79,235 recorded offences, 13% less than in 2019. Since 2015, the number of uninsured drivers increased year-on-year until the new low in 2019. 

Making false statements or withholding information to obtain insurance

The Ministry of Justice data shows low numbers recorded for this offence, with only 54 cases in 2019. By comparison, in 2010, the number of cases totalled 285, meaning there was an 81% decrease over 10 years.

The low numbers of convictions are most likely due to the fact that insurance companies manage these offences internally, for example by cancelling the offender’s policy.

Keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements

The offence of ‘Keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements’ was introduced in 2011, the same year as legislation setting out ‘Continuous Insurance Enforcement (CIE)’. CIE is a scheme whereby DVLA vehicle records are systematically compared with insurance records to find uninsured vehicles.

Since it was introduced, recorded offences increased annually, reaching a peak of around 73,000 offences in 2018 – more than six times the level recorded in 2012. However, there was a slight fall in 2019 from 2018, with offences dropping to less than 70k for the first time since 2016.

Regional trends

With a rate of around 77% above average for uninsured driving, West Yorkshire was the worst region for this offence in 2019. This is despite a decrease of offences in the region, from 3.02 per 1,000 in 2018 to 2.58 in 1,000. 

Due to a 38% increase of recorded uninsured driving offences, Kent went from 28th worst region to 8th. In 2018, Kent had a rate of 1.35 per 1,000 compared to 1.87 per 1,000 in 2019. 

10 worst regions for uninsured driver offences (2019)

Region Rate per 1,000 people
West Yorkshire 2.58
Bedfordshire 2.34
Lincolnshire 2.26
Metropolitan 2.15
Northamptonshire 1.95
Gwent 1.92
Humberside 1.88
Kent 1.87
Lancashire 1.82
Norfolk 1.78

Sussex secured the lowest rate of uninsured driving offences in 2018 and 2019, despite a 34% year-on-year increase. In 2019, the region’s rate was 0.71 per 1,000 – about 51.5% below average. 

However, the biggest improvement came from Staffordshire. With a 38% decrease in uninsured driving offences, the region swiftly moved from 5th worst region in 2018 to 24th in 2019. 

While Sussex achieved the lowest rate of uninsured driving offences, it had the worst rate for the offence of ‘Keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements’ for 2016-2019. In 2019, the region recorded 60% more offences than the second-worst region – 16,569 versus 10,361 in West Yorkshire. 

The discrepancy seen here with Sussex highlights how police forces focus on specific offences. For example, Merseyside’s rate of unmatched vehicle offences was just 0.0056 per 1,000 in 2019 but 1.53 per 1,000 for uninsured motorists. 

Age-related trends

Our analysis shows that younger generations are the most likely to be uninsured; two-thirds of all uninsured driving offences in 2017-2019 were committed by those aged 39 or under. Those aged 30-39 are the worst culprits, accounting for just under 29% of all uninsured driving offences in 2019, with 25-29-year-olds responsible for around 20%.  

Offences of ‘Keeping vehicle which does not match insurance requirements’ also peak in the 30-39-year-old grouping – they are responsible for around 30% of offences in this category. However, the second-highest proportion of offenders is the 40-49-year-old grouping (around 20%), rather than the generation aged 25-29 (around 16.5%).

The total number of offences of ‘making false statements or withholding information to obtain insurance’ is low, and so splitting the data by age should be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, the analysis shows consistency with other insurance-related offences – those aged 30-39 were the most common lawbreakers in 2019 (26% of all offences in this category). 

How to avoid common motoring offences

Our analysis has shown that, in general, mobile phone offences are becoming less common, while insurance offences and driving under the influence are unfortunately seeing an upward trend. We have also seen a year-on-year increase in offences in 12 of the top 20 most common motoring offences. 

Motoring laws are in place to protect you, passengers, other road users and pedestrians. It is essential that you know and follow motoring laws not only because it is best for those around you, but also to protect yourself. We’re all human and we all can make mistakes. So here are some tips for ways you can stay on the right side of the law.

Driving and mobile phone offences

  • Using your mobile phone while behind the wheel is illegal even if you are in stopped traffic or at a set of lights. To avoid temptation, place your phone on your back seat or in the boot.
  • Need to talk while driving? Invest in a hands-free kit, but remember that you can still be stopped by police if using it is a distraction, so only use it when it is absolutely necessary. If in doubt, always find a safe place to park before making your call.

Driving and insurance offences

  • If you have a vehicle that you’re not planning to drive, you must register it as SORN. You can also continue protecting your car against theft and accidental damage with SORN insurance. Learn more in our complete guide to Statutory Off Road Notifications here.
  • If you want to borrow a car from a friend or family member, you shouldn’t only check whether you’re insured to drive other vehicles, but also whether the vehicle has the proper insurance to be driven. It only takes a few minutes to check the policy documents or make a quick call to the insurance company, and it could save you money, points and your licence.
  • When you speak to an insurer to get a quote, be as honest as possible and, once you have your policy summary, review it carefully to ensure nothing is incorrect or missing. For example, if you informed someone of a speeding offence on the phone and it is missing from your policy, this could invalidate your insurance. If in doubt, always ask your insurance provider what details they need to know.

Drug driving

  • If you’re convicted of drug driving, you face a driving ban of at least 12 months (your fitness to drive will be medically assessed), a criminal record, an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. With this in mind, the best way to avoid a drug-driving conviction is simply never to drive after taking illicit drugs.
  • If you use illegal drugs, you could speak to a GP, pharmacist or drug service about how long these substances will remain in your system. Having a better understanding of what you’re taking and how it affects your body might help you avoid driving while you’re still under the influence of any substances.
  • Drug-driving laws also cover certain prescribed drugs that can impair your driving, including morphine and diazepam. Your GP or pharmacist can advise on the risks associated with your specific dose.

Drink driving

  • It’s difficult to say just how much alcohol you can drink before going over the limit as there are so many variables – your weight, metabolism and sex, what you’ve had to eat and when, the type of alcohol you are drink and even your stress levels. As such, it is best to play it safe and avoid drinking and driving . Learn more at drinkaware.co.uk.
  • If you’re heading for a night out and decide to take your car, book a taxi home anyway. That way, you know that you have another option if you lose track of what you have drunk. You can always cancel it if you stay sober.
  • As a general rule of thumb, it takes the body around an hour to process one unit of alcohol. So before you jump into the car the morning after a big boozer the night before, you should consider whether you’re safe to drive. For example, four pints of 4%  lager or four 175ml glasses of wine is about 9 units. If you finish drinking at midnight, you probably won’t be fit to drive until at least late the next morning. However, as blood-alcohol levels are dependent on many factors, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure you drive only when it is fit and legal for you to do so. If you don’t know how much you drank or are in any doubt of when you can drive, then don’t take the risk at all. Wait until the next day before getting behind the wheel.

Get a quote for convicted driver insurance

Committing a motoring offence can not only get you a hefty fine and points on your licence, but it can also affect your insurance. While some insurance providers don’t offer cover to convicted drivers, Adrian Flux offers specialist insurance policies to cover a range of scenarios. If you’ve made mistakes in the past, we can help: get a competitive quote for convicted driver insurance today. 

Notes on data:

  • The Ministry of Justice’s ‘Motoring Tool’ is released annually in May and reveals how many offences have occurred each year for each driving endorsement code, covering everything from insurance fraud to speeding. We have analysed the data by region and age to find the most interesting insights from the most recent release, and compared this to previous years.
  • Population data sourced from ONS, correct as of July 2020.
  • Rates per thousand have been rounded to two decimal places.
  • Percentages rounded to the nearest 0.5% where appropriate.

Declaring points to your insurance company

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