POLICE have hailed an improvement in the behaviour of Scots drivers after the number of penalties issued plummeted.
Total motoring offences, which account for more than half of Scottish crime, were down by one third in the year to March compared to 2013-14.
Mobile phone and seat belt offences fell even faster in the first annual comparison since Police Scotland was formed two years ago.
Mobile phone offences were halved from 35,764 to 17,978, which was also the first reduction for six years. The numbers of speeders caught by police fell by more than one quarter from 82,382 to 60,926.
Drivers and passengers caught not wearing seat belts came down by nearly 60 per cent from 37,880 to 15,619.
Road deaths increased by two to 192, but serious injuries were reduced by 83 to 1,627.
Neil Greig, the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “On the face of it, this looks like a good news story for road safety, with a big fall-off in the number of those caught doing things behind the wheel that are widely accepted as being dangerous. Given the high profile for road safety we were promised by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, I would have expected a rise in convictions rather than a big fall.
“The most worrying aspect is deaths have increased despite fewer convictions. It is vital for the future of enforcement policy that this link is fully investigated. We need to know if the police are targeting the right offences, in the right place, at the right time and in sufficient numbers.”
Police Scotland said it stopped a vehicle every two minutes last year, with some drivers being given warnings instead of penalties.
Chief Supt Iain Murray, head of road policing, said: “Where risk-taking is identified, officers engage with drivers to provide guidance and awareness and ‘real-time’ education when appropriate, and to enforce legislation when necessary.
“This high-profile approach means officers are influencing behaviour, providing a visible deterrent and are now routinely engaging with those travel-ling above the legal limit but within a range where advice and education might be an appropriate disposal.
“This year, there has been a further increase in the number of vehicles stopped and this, combined with the heartening statistics that show last year there was a record low number of injury collisions, makes me believe driver behaviour is changing.”
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “We welcome the reduction in these offences, which suggests more drivers are paying heed to safety messages.”