THE number of motorists in East Lancashire fined for using their mobile phone behind the wheel has plummeted, according to new figures.

Police in the Eastern and Pennine divisions, which cover the area between them, handed out fixed penalty notices to just 1,145 motorists last year. That’s almost half the 2,185 who were caught using their phone illegally in 2010/11, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed.

In Pennine, which covers Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, the number of fines dropped from 1,132 fines in 2010/12 to 564 in 2012/13, and in Eastern, which covers Blackburn, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley, the number of fines went down from 1,053 to 581.

Drivers or motorcyclists caught using a mobile phone get an automatic fixed penalty notice with three points and a fine. Although the number of penalty points handed out to offenders has remained at three since 2003, the fine has increased and now stands at £100.

Almost 6,000 people in East Lancashire have been penalised since the law was introduced in 2003.

Hyndburn and Haslingden Labour MP Graham Jones said: “Until we see the man hours allocated to traffic policing then it’s difficult to say exactly why these figures are significantly down.

“My own feeling is that the number of hours for traffic police has been reduced and I would suspect more people are getting away with it.”

But Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said the decrease in fines was was down to the police messages getting through to motorists.

He said: “The figures indicate that there are still a significant number of people being stopped and fined for their illegal use of mobile phones whilst driving in Lancashire. This is a concern because of the threat that this poses, not just to themselves, but to other road users and pedestrians.

“That the figures have shown a steady decrease is however pleasing. It demonstrates that the message is gradually getting across to motorists that such behaviour is not acceptable.

“Ensuring the safety of Lancashire road users will continue to remain a high priority and I will do everything I can to ensure that we have to ensure we have sufficient resources to implement enforcement where necessary.”