British drivers are facing even tougher restrictions on the use of mobile phones behind the wheel, with tougher legislation to be enacted in 2021.
It has been illegal in the UK since 2003 to use a handheld phone whilst driving, and for a while now the government has been under pressure to ban the use of hands-free equipment as well.
The UK ban on drivers on holding a mobile phone to make a call, or send a text message, did allow some wriggle room that worried safety campaigners.
A ‘legislation loophole’ could for example allow drivers to escape punishment for using a hand-held phone to take a photo or play a game.
But the new legislation should change that.
Official guidance for UK drivers using a mobile phone is available here.
It comes after the Department for Transport announced that “people using a hand-held mobile phone in all circumstances while driving will be breaking the law.”
That said, drivers will still be able to use hands-free options (i.e. sat-nav secured in a phone cradle) and still use mobile phones to pay for goods in a drive-through takeaway.
“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,” said DfT. “While still distracting, drivers have escaped punishment due to a legal loophole where such actions aren’t seen as ‘interactive communication’, and therefore do not fit the current definition of the offence.”
Now after a review of the offence, a consultation has been launched on bringing the law into line with modern technology, it said.
This means that drivers caught taking photos, playing games or scrolling through a playlist behind the wheel will be clearly breaking the law on mobile phone use.
“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,” said Roads Minister Baroness Vere.
“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,” said the minister.
Ministers have rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions – drivers will still be able to continue safely using devices ‘hands-free’ while driving, such as a sat-nav secured in a cradle.
The penalties in place for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving are 6 penalty points and a £200 fine.
“There’s no excuse for picking up a mobile phone when driving so we’re pleased this loophole will be closed,” said AA president Edmund King OBE.
“Phones do so much more than calls and texts, so it’s only right that the law is changed to keep pace with technology,” said King. “Tweets, TikTok and Instagram snaps can all wait until you park up.”
“These new rules will clarify the law and help drivers realise that this dangerous act can have the same consequences and be as socially unacceptable as drink driving,” said King. “If you cannot resist the temptation to pick up your phone, then you should convert your glovebox into a phone box.”
The government also revealed it reviewing road traffic policing and wider traffic enforcement – to look at how roads policing currently works, its effectiveness, and where improvements could be made.
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