The Government has confirmed it will close a legal loophole which has allowed drivers who use mobile phones to film or take photographs to escape prosecution.
At present, the law prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text.
However, people caught filming or taking photos while driving have escaped punishment as lawyers have successfully argued this activity does not fit into the ‘interactive communication’ currently outlawed by the legislation.
On 1 November, transport secretary Grant Shapps announced he will urgently take forward a review to tighten up the existing law, with further proposals expected to be in place by spring 2020.
The revised legislation will mean any driver caught texting, taking photos, browsing the internet or scrolling through a playlist while behind the wheel will be prosecuted.
The announcement is in response to a Transport Committee report, published in August, which called on the Government to consider tougher restrictions on driving while using a mobile phone, as well as stricter enforcement of the law.
The report also recommended the Government explores options for extending the ban on hand-held devices to hands-free phones.
While the Government acknowledges the risks associated with the use of hands-free mobile phones while driving, it says there are no plans to introduce a ban.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said: “We recognise that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern day life but we are also committed to making our roads safe.
“Drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone are hindering their ability to spot hazards and react in time – putting people’s lives at risk.
“We welcome the Transport Select Committee’s report, and share their drive to make our roads even safer which is why this review will look to tighten up the existing law to bring it into the 21st century, preventing reckless driving and reduce accidents on our roads.”
Tightening the offence ‘only as powerful as the level of enforcement’
Road safety stakeholders have welcomed the Government announcement, but have stressed the importance of enforcement.
Nick Lloyd, head of road safety at RoSPA said: “Drivers who use their phones are up to four times more likely to crash.
“RoSPA highlighted this loophole in the summer and is delighted that such prompt action is being taken to ensure that all hand-held mobile phone use is to be prohibited, making our roads safer for all.
“This action comes alongside further measures to tackle phone use while driving, including a review of road traffic policing and wider traffic enforcement to look at how roads policing currently works, its effectiveness, and where improvements could be made.”
Simon Williams, RAC road safety spokesperson, said: “We welcome the Government’s decision to review the offence with a view to closing the existing loophole.
“It seems very wrong that prosecutions can currently only be made if drivers are using a handheld phone for the purposes of communication when there are so many other ways of using a smartphone, such as taking pictures, filming or selecting music, which put the lives of other road users at risk.
“It should also be said that tightening the offence, along with increasing the penalty two years ago, is only as powerful as the level of enforcement.
“In the absence of technology being used to catch offenders, the decline in the number of roads police officers means there is a much lesser chance of being caught in person today than there was 10 years ago.”