Road safety stakeholders have welcomed the Government’s move to ensure those who use a hand-held mobile while driving will be breaking the law, under all circumstances.
Current law states it is a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone to call or text while driving – but a legal loophole has ensured drivers have escaped punishment for other actions such as taking photos.
This is because such actions aren’t seen as ‘interactive communication’, and therefore do not fit the current definition of the offence.
On 17 October, the Government announced proposals to ‘bring the law into line with modern technology’ – meaning drivers caught taking photos, playing games or scrolling through a playlist behind the wheel will be breaking the law.
Road safety charity Brake says the move will ensure offenders are ‘appropriately punished’.
Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said: “We welcome the Government’s move to improve the law on mobile phone use behind the wheel, ensuring that drivers who are caught taking photos or playing games when driving can be appropriately punished.”
Government urged to prohibit hands-free devices
Under the new plans, an exemption will apply to contactless payments, if a vehicle is stationary, and if goods or services – such as a takeaway meal – are delivered immediately.
Ministers have also rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions – drivers will still be able to continue using devices ‘hands-free’ while driving, such as a sat-nav secured in a cradle.
Brake has called on the Government to address the dangers of hands-free devices,
The charity points to a Transport Committee report, published in 2019, which found that: “The evidence shows that using a hands-free device creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand-held device, and it is therefore inappropriate for the law to condone it by omission.”
Joshua Harris added: “When amending the law on phone use when driving, the Government must also take the opportunity to prohibit the use of hands-free devices.
“The current law gives the impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit when the evidence is clear that it is not. Banning hands-free devices may be challenging but we urge the Government to prioritise the lives of road users and take action now.”
GEM calls for more roads policing
While welcoming the move, GEM Motoring Assist has warned it was now vital for more roads policing officers to be made available to ensure the new law will be effective.
Neil Worth, GEM chief executive, said: “The update to this law is welcome, because any activity involving a mobile phone while driving is a potentially fatal distraction.
“But we must see more police patrols out there looking for the drivers who continue to flout the rules. Action needs to be taken against anyone who is prepared to risk their own life – or someone else’s – by selfishly using a hand-held phone while driving.”
Specific mobile phone driving laws were introduced in December 2003 and saw motorists handed a £60 fine for an offence. This rose to £100 in 2013.
Fines increased to £200 and penalty points endorsements doubled in 2017, to act as a further deterrent.