The Government is refreshing the mobile phone laws hen behind the wheel.

The move will make it illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving under ‘virtually any circumstance’. However, despite repeated calls from road safety experts to ban ‘hands free’, the government has stopped short.

It’s for you

Current law states it is a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone to call or text while driving. However, a legal loophole allows drivers to escape punishment for other phone use. This includes actions such as taking photos or scrolling through other apps and operations.

Because they aren’t seen as ‘interactive communication’, they do not fit the current definition of the offence.

Up to date

The Government confirmed the law will be ‘brought into the 21st century’ . It means banning drivers from using their phones to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games.

Measures will come into effect in 2022. Anyone caught using their hand-held device while driving will face a £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on their licence.

Simple and effective

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said mobile phone use behind the wheel is causing “too many deaths and injuries”. The new law will make it easier to prosecute illegal phone use by drivers, “ensuring the law is brought into the 21st century”.

The move follows a public consultation in which 81% of respondents supported strengthening the law and make it easier to prosecute. There will also be a revision of The Highway Code to explain the new measures. It will be more precise about the fact that being stationary in traffic counts as driving. The clarification will make it clear that hand-held mobile phone use at traffic lights or in motorway jams is illegal except in very limited circumstances.

Paying the price

There will be an exemption to the new law for drivers making a contactless payment using their mobile phone. This has to be when stationary when in a drive-through restaurant or a road toll. It will only apply when payment is being made with a card reader. It will not allow motorists to make general online payments while driving.

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. However, the Government says they must always take responsibility for their driving. Otherwise they can be charged with an offence if the police find them not to be in proper control of their vehicle.

Cut off

It is believed that 17 people died as a result of drivers distracted using a mobile phone. A further 114 people were seriously injured and 385 suffering lesser injuries.

Road safety experts and research has found that using ‘hands-free’ devices is equally dangerous. Even before the existing laws were introduced in 2003, a report described using a hands-free device behind the wheel was a dangerous as drink driving. These claims and results have been repeated in a numbers of pieces of research. The consensus of science is that all mobile phone use should be banned. This would make the road safer and also help make prosecutions and deterrents more effective.

At this point in time there is no appetite in government to introduce such a law.

Purpose and policing

While road safety groups such as Brake, AA and RAC welcomed the tightening of the law, they are calling for more effective policing. Enforcement is key to the law working as a deterrent. However, the number of ‘cops in cars’ has steadily fallen over the last decade.