The Government will be tightening rules on all hand-held device usage while driving, making it illegal to use under almost any circumstance.
Currently, it is already illegal to text or make a phone call using a hand-held device while driving. The only exception is to use them in an emergency.
This year, new rules will introduce ways to inhibit drivers from using their phones in the car. This will include taking photos or videos, scrolling through playlists or to play games.
Those caught using a hand-held device while driving will face a £200 fixed penalty notice. They will also accrue six points on their licence.
The Government reassures that drivers will still be able to continue using a device ‘hands-free’ while driving. This includes using phones as a sat-nav, providing it’s secured in a cradle.
However, police still have authority to pull cars over when they think is necassary. For example, if they deem you to not to be in proper control of your vehicle, they can charge you with careless driving.
The Government participated in a consultation on mobile phone use while driving in October 2020. This will close a loophole in the original law.
The existing legislation makes it a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone to call or text while driving. However, drivers are still able to use them for other actions, such as taking photos.
This law suggests committing an offence will be when a driver is using a handheld mobile phone for “interactive telecommunication” while behind the wheel.
The phrase reflects mobile phone use from its implementation in 2003. During this time, smartphones were not in existence and mobile device usage included sending texts or making calls.
It has enabled lawyers to successfully argue that using a phone’s camera while driving does not constitute “interactive telecommunication”.
Why is the law changing?
Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, said: “Driver distraction can be deadly and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk. The significance of this road safety decision by Government coincides with Road Safety Week.
“This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones.”
The Government consultation found 81% of respondents supported proposals to strengthen the law. Therefore, making it easier to prosecute culprits.
Paul Loughlin, a solicitor specialising in motoring law at Stephensons, said: “As phones have become more popular and developed new functions, we have seen related offences increase in number as well as seriousness”. This announcement will be welcome news for many. Moreover, it is a progressive movement toward making our roads a safer place for all road users.
The way people use phones has changed as phones have become more and more advanced. To improve road safety, it is necessary to modernise the law to reflect this.
“As ever, the challenge will come back to both education and enforcement. Many drivers have ingrained habits when behind the wheel and unfortunately some don’t hesitate to check their phones, often below the line of sight for any passing police officer to notice.”
“While this legislation will certainly act as a greater deterrent, it is important that we now see a sustained effort to educate drivers of this change as well as tough enforcement from the police.”
Highway Code revisions:
The Government will now revise The Highway Code to explain the new measures. It will also be more accurate about what constitutes as driving. For example, being stationary in traffic will still counts as driving. Thus, making it clear that hand-held mobile phone use at traffic lights or in motorway jams is illegal. This will still accept emergencies as an exemption.
What’s more, there will be an exemption to the new law for drivers making contactless payments using their mobile phone. They must, however, remain stationary. It is imporatant to ensure the law keeps pace with technology.
This exemption will cover, for example, places like a drive-through restaurant or a road toll. Furthermore, it will only apply with card reader payments. It will not allow motorists to make general online payments while driving.
Among other findings, the research revealed younger motorists are more likely to have used a hand-held device at the wheel.