The number of drivers given penalty points for using a mobile phone at the wheel fell by 24% in England and Wales last year, according to police figures.

Figures, obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request by BBC Radio 5 live, show 72,753 fixed penalty notices (FPN) were given out from 36 of the 43 police forces in 2014, compared with 95,941 in 2013.

Drivers caught using mobile phones at the wheel can be given a fixed penalty notice consisting of three penalty points on their licence and a £100 fine. However, the figures indicated that many police forces offered first-time offenders the opportunity to attend a road safety course, similar to that offered to speeding offenders. In 2014, 99,000 people attended the What’s Driving Us? course, a 53 per cent increase on 2013.

Last year, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said motorists caught using mobiles could face tougher punishments, indicating the penalty could be doubled to six points, but as of yet nothing has been done to implement any change.

David Robinson, a specialist road traffic accident solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Newcastle office, said: “Latest research by the Department for Transport indicates that many drivers are still flouting the law to use their phone to send texts and use social media, as well as make phone calls, despite a ban being introduced in 2003.

“Given this, it is surprising that there has been a reduction in the number of people being caught using their mobile phone by police. The government of the last five years said that it was considering introducing a tougher punishment, but this is yet to happen, and the Tories and Lib Dems have placed enormous strain on police forces services due to tough budget restraints.

“Since 2010 when the coalition government came to power, in the North East alone 1,402 police have been cut, something that is the same across the country, and even deeper cuts will be made to policing budgets in the next Parliament if George Osborne is Chancellor. This cannot happen if we want Britain's roads and streets to be safer.

“Traffic policing needs to be a high priority to deter drivers from engaging in reckless behaviour, like using a phone at the wheel, to ensure that there is a reduction in the number serious injuries and deaths resulting from road traffic collisions our roads.”