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POLICE will soon be able to more easily prosecute drivers using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel after the government strengthens existing laws to further improve road safety.
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 phones 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 6 points on their licence.
Drivers will still be able to continue using a device ‘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.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Too many deaths and injuries occur while mobile phones are being held. 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.”
This follows a public consultation that found 81% of respondents supported proposals to strengthen the law and make it easier for culprits to be prosecuted.
Following the public consultation, the government will revise The Highway Code to explain the new measures. It will also be 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 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, Chief Executive of Brake – the road safety charity, said: “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.”
How practical is the new law and how easy will it be to enforce?
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 and goes some way toward making our roads a safer place for all road users.
“The way people have used phones has changed as phones have become more and more advanced and for the sake of road safety, it is about time the law was modernised 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.”
Jim Holder, Editorial Director, What Car? said: “Unfortunately, mobile phone use behind the wheel is a common sight on UK roads, and last year saw more than 2000 accidents occur due to distracted driving. As cars become more connected and mobile phones more than just means of calling or text messaging, their use behind the wheel has also changed. We welcome the new legislation to help curb phone use when driving, but it is far from solving the problem.
“Many new models allow drivers to synchronise their phone to the infotainment system and access a variety of applications through a fixed touchscreen – just as they would on their smartphone. So while the phone itself is neatly tucked away, the potential for it to distract drivers is still present. As such, it is important that scrutiny of the latest technology does not end here.”