Desperate times call for desperate measures. This was the RAC’s response on hearing that the police were relying on “community spotters” to target mobile phone users at the wheel.

Roads police officer numbers have fallen by 27% over the last five years and so the chances of being caught for any motoring offence is about the same as Eric Bristow winning this year’s Sports Personality of the Year.

This is not helpful when the public keep telling pollsters mobile phone use is one of the greatest risks they face on the roads.

It’s also raised the question of whether increased penalties due to come into force next year will have any effect, if no-one is around to dish them out.

Stung by these observations, and no doubt as frustrated by their dwindling budgets as everyone else, the police ran a week-long operation in November dedicated to cracking down on the offence.

And in Gloucestershire they did something unusual and plugged the gap by asking civilians to keep check on motorists.

According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), the spotters only recorded the violations they saw, as well as enough extra information for them to “receive information about the dangers of distracted driving, to get people to recognise how often they might be flouting the law.”

The NPCC says the team of spotters were not paid and were not drawn from the general public, but were drawn from community organisations like the Institute of Advanced Motoring, the fire service and the county council.

No figures are available yet showing how many offences were detected, but in the absence of any other bright ideas (paying for more roads police officers, for example) the RAC couldn’t do anything but welcome the move:

“We know the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel is at epidemic proportions and imaginative ways of tackling the problem are clearly needed,” says a spokesman.

“It is, of course, paramount that any such scheme needs to be very carefully managed. In order to stamp out handheld phone use while driving a major change in behaviour needs to take place so maybe schemes like this will help to bring that about.”

If you have been caught using a mobile phone whilst driving and need some advice please contact our specialist motoring solicitors on 0800 046 3066