The Government is strengthening existing laws making it illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving under virtually any circumstance.
It says this follows a public consultation which found that 81% of people supported such a move. The Highway code is being changed making it clear that hand-held phone use at traffic lights or in traffic jams is illegal.
It is already illegal to text or make a phone call, other than in an emergency, using a hand-held device while driving. Next year, laws will go further to ban drivers from using their phone to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists, or play games.
This will mean anyone caught using their hand-held device while driving will face a £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on their licence.
Drivers will still be able to continue using devices ‘hands-free’ while driving, such as a sat-nav, if it’s secured in a cradle. They must, however, always take responsibility for their driving and can be charged with an offence if the police find them not to be in proper control of their vehicle.
“Too many deaths and injuries occur whilst mobile phones are being held,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “By making it easier to prosecute people illegally using their phone at the wheel, we are ensuring the law is brought into the 21st Century while further protecting all road users.
“While our roads remain among the safest in the world, we will continue working tirelessly to make them safer, including through our award-winning THINK! campaign, which challenges social norms among high-risk drivers.”
The revised Highway Code will explain the new measures, being more precise about the fact that being stationary in traffic counts as driving, making it clear that hand-held mobile phone use at traffic lights or in motorway jams is illegal except in very limited circumstances.
There will, however, be an exemption to the new law for drivers making a contactless payment using their mobile phone while stationary to ensure the law keeps pace with technology.
This exemption will cover, for example, places like a drive-through restaurant or a road toll, and will only apply when payment is being made with a card reader. It will not allow motorists to make general online payments while driving.
Mary Williams OBE, Chief Executive of Brake – the road safety charity, added, “Driver distraction can be deadly and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk. This important road safety decision by Government, coinciding with Road Safety Week, is very welcomed.
“This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones. The theme for Road Safety Week is road safety heroes – we can all be road safety heroes by giving driving our full attention.”
The Department for Transport has also published a study by Ipsos Mori about drivers who use mobile phones while driving.
Among other findings, the research reveals younger motorists are more likely to have used a handheld device at the wheel, supporting the focus of the Government’s award-winning THINK! campaign which works to boost road safety by targeting higher-risk, younger motorists and road-users.
RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said, “We strongly welcome the Government’s strengthening of the law on handheld mobile phone use behind the wheel. As our phones have become more sophisticated, the law has not kept pace and this has allowed some drivers who have been using their handheld phones for purposes other than communicating to exploit a loophole and avoid the maximum penalty. Our research suggests that more than one-in-10 younger drivers admit to taking a photo or video while driving, while 6% say they have played a game.
“While today’s announcement is clearly good news, it’s absolutely vital that the new law is vigorously enforced otherwise there’s a risk that it won’t deliver the sort of behaviour change that will make our roads safer.”
(Picture – Yay Images)