It will soon be illegal to pick up your phone while driving
Drivers will soon no longer be able to escape punishment for using a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel after the Government revealed plans to close an outdated legal loophole.
Drivers are technically only banned from making calls or texting while in charge of a vehicle – with pressure mounting for the law to be brought up to date to include functions like taking a photo, watching videos or playing games.
The Department for Transport’s (DfT) decision to open a consultation into the law change comes as “very welcome” news to the RAC and 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.
And an exemption will be made under the plans to allow mobiles to be used for contactless payments – such as at a drive-thru restaurant – as long as the vehicle is stationary and goods are delivered immediately.
Expected to come into effect during early 2021 (pending outcomes of the consultation) the law change would apply across the UK – with the punishment for breaking hand-held law amounting to six penalty points and a £200 fine.
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RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The closing of this loophole is very welcome and reflects the multitude of ways drivers can use hand-held phones when behind the wheel in 2020.
“We know that the use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel continues to represent a very real road safety risk, so it’s clear more needs to be done to make this as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
“It’s important that alongside this change to the law, the Government looks seriously at other options that can help enforce the law, which should include new camera technology that can detect different types of hand-held mobile phone use.”
Last year alone in the UK, there were 637 casualties from incidents involving a driver using a mobile at the wheel – including 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.
“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”
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DfT-commissioned research by the University of Leeds showed that from a sample of 52 drivers over a total of 765 journeys, some 662 phone interactions were observed, of which only 38 were completely hands-free.
Recent figures for the RAC Report on Motoring 2020 reveal that younger drivers are more than twice as likely to say they make or receive video calls while driving – on average 8% of all UK drivers say they do this, with the figure rising to 13% among those aged 25 to 44.
Equally worrying is the finding that just under one-in-10 drivers aged 17 to 24 (9%) say they play games on their phones while driving, making them three-times more likely to do this compared to the average UK driver.
A car being driven at 30mph travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, demonstrating how spending a moment to change a song on a playlist or check an app can so easily result in a crash.
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Baroness Vere, Roads Minister, said: “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.
“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.”