New government plans will make using a hand-held mobile phone in any circumstances illegal.
While it’s already an offence to use a hand-held phone to call or text while driving, it isn’t for other actions such as changing your music, playing a game or taking photos – this is due to a legal loophole.
While these activities are still distracting, because they’re not considered ‘interactive communication’, they don’t fit the current definition of the offence.
The government has launched a consultation following a review of the offence, to update the law to fit with modern technology. This will mean drivers using a hand-held phone for any reason behind the wheel will be breaking the law.
Because phones are often used as a payment method, an exemption will apply if the vehicle is stationary and the goods – for example a takeaway meal at a drive thru – are brought immediately. Using your phone hands free – for example with a cradle – is currently allowed, and will continue to be.
Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “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.”
This news comes as new research is published around mobile phone use by drivers. Commissioned by the Department for Transport, the University of Leeds examined footage of 51 drivers taking a total 765 trips. They found there were 662 mobile phone interactions during those trips, and only 38 of those were completely hands free.
Updating the law will allow police to take immediate action should they see a driver using their phone while driving, which currently carries a punishment of six penalty points and a £200 fine.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: “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.”
These plans form part of the government’s road safety action plan.