It’s already a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone to call or text while driving, but not for other actions such as taking photos. While still distracting, drivers have escaped punishment due to a legal loophole where such actions are not seen as ‘interactive communication’, and therefore do not fit the current definition of the offence.
Now, following a review of the offence, a consultation has been launched on bringing the law into line with modern technology – meaning drivers caught taking photos, playing games or scrolling through a playlist behind the wheel will be clearly breaking the law on mobile phone use.
Recognising that mobile phones are commonly used as a method of payment – such as at drive-thrus – an exemption will apply under the new proposals set out by government today to contactless payments, if a vehicle is stationary, and if goods or services – such as a takeaway meal – are delivered immediately.
Says Roads Minister Baroness Vere:
“Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.
“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances– it’s distracting and dangerous and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”
Ministers have rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions. As a result, drivers will still be able to use devices ‘hands-free’ while driving, such as a sat-nav secured in a cradle.
The proposals come as new research published today gives a further snapshot into driver behaviour in the UK. The project, commissioned by DfT and carried out by the University of Leeds, looked at footage of 51 drivers and found over 765 trips, 662 mobile phone interactions were observed with only 38 completely hands-free. At 30mph, a car travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds – meaning even a split-second lapse from changing a song on a playlist or checking an app could result in a crash.
By updating the law, police powers will be bolstered to tackle this behaviour even further – ensuring they can take immediate action if they see a driver holding and using their phone at the wheel. The penalties in place for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving are six penalty points and a £200 fine.
Adds National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham:
“Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever. Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”
Road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist also welcomes the recent UK government announcement. However, its chief executive Neil Worth warned it was now vital for more roads policing officers to be available to ensure the new law would be effective.
“The update to this law is welcome because any activity involving a mobile phone while driving is a potentially fatal distraction,” he said. “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.”
GEM offers 6 tips regarding mobile phones and driving:
1 You’re allowed to use a mobile phone when you are safely parked, with the engine off and the handbrake on.
2 Please do not pick up your phone in any other driving situation, including when you’re stationary at traffic lights or queueing in traffic.
3 The only exception to this is if it’s an emergency and it would be unsafe or impractical to stop, in which case you may call 999.
4 Don’t assume that using a hands-free kit means you have dealt with the risk. You are still allowing yourself to be distracted from the task of safe driving, and you could still be prosecuted for not being in control (an offence that carries a £100 fine and three penalty points).
5 Take a few minutes before a journey to make important calls or to check voice messages and emails. Work together with friends, family, colleagues and work contacts to remove the expectation that we should all be available, all the time.
6 Plan journeys to build in breaks from driving, where you can call, text or email or interact with social media in a safe environment.