It could soon be illegal to pick up your phone while driving
The Department for Transport’s (DfT) has opened a consultation into widening the scope of “mobile use” under the law. The RAC commented that it is a positive step towards making phone use as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
Hands-free phone use will still be allowed under the proposals, despite calls from some ministers that certain functions are just as distracting as hand-held use.
Pending the outcome of the consultation, the law change is expected to come into effect in early 2021 and would apply across the UK – with a punishment of six penalty points and a £200 fine.
Road safety organisation, IAM RoadSmart welcomed the consultation, saying: “Scientific research clearly demonstrates that a driver cannot safely control a car and make or take phone calls at the same time. Deaths and injury caused when a driver is distracted by a mobile phone are completely avoidable and a senseless waste of life.
“The number of casualties in crashes where a driver was using a mobile phone is difficult to establish. But research in simulators has shown drivers who use hands-free phones are up to four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Texting or smartphone use whilst driving increases reaction times by up to 35%.
“IAM RoadSmart research shows it can be more distracting than driving with alcohol or cannabis in your system. Conversations on hands-free mobile phones also distract and that is why our advice is to switch off before you drive off.”
IAM RoadSmart recommends:
• Continued education campaigns to reinforce and clarify the current laws
• Insurance companies should increase the premiums of those caught using a handheld phone or who have other phone related convictions
• Mobile phone, car makers and technology companies developing new products that reduce or remove completely the potential for phone use when a vehicle is in motion
• Increasing the fines and points tally for mobile phone use with high profile police enforcement of the current laws
• As part of their safety management policy companies should be encouraged to take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to phone use when driving on business
• Companies who actively force drivers to use mobiles when in motion should be prosecuted under corporate manslaughter or health and safety laws
Background and consultation details
The offence of using a hand-held mobile phone has been in place since 2003. At the time when the offence was introduced, the main reason why people used a mobile phone was to communicate, either with another person or with the internet. Accordingly, the offence was couched in terms of "using" a hand-held mobile phone to perform a function that involved "interactive communication".
The consultation period began on 17 October 2020 and will run until 17 January 2021.