The Government will tighten the laws surrounding the use of mobile phones so that it is illegal to use a hand-held device under virtually any circumstance while driving.
The use of mobile phones while driving will be banned as of 2022
Texting or making a phone call (unless in an emergency) with a hand-held device is already illegal but from 2022, drivers will no longer be able to use their phones at all, including taking pictures, watching videos, scrolling through playlists, or playing games, according to the new law. Any driver caught using a handheld device behind the wheel will be fined £200 and receive six points on their license.
According to the Government, drivers will still be able to use 'hands-free' devices, such as sat-nav units, while driving if they are secured safely in a cradle. Police will however be able to charge them with careless driving if they find that they are not in proper control of their vehicle.
Grant Shapps, UK secretary of transport, says that mobile use of mobile phones behind the wheel causes too many deaths and injuries.
“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,” he said.
“While our roads remain among the safest in the world, we will continue working tirelessly to make them safer.”
To close a loophole in the original law, the Government launched a consultation on mobile phone use while driving in October 2020.
By current legislation, a driver violates the law if he uses a handheld mobile phone for "interactive telecommunication" (calls or texts) while driving but not when he's using anything else, like taking pictures.
When this law was written in 2003, there were no smartphones and mobile devices were used to send texts or make calls. Lawyers have successfully argued that using a phone's camera while driving does not constitute "interactive telecommunication".
After Ramsey Barreto had a conviction quashed for filming a crash on his phone, the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed to the High Court.
When police saw him using his phone to record a video of an accident while driving, the 51-year-old was prosecuted and found guilty. The conviction was overturned at Isleworth Crown Court after his lawyers successfully argued that the law only prohibited talking on mobile phones while operating a motor vehicle. In its July 2019 decision, the High Court dismissed the appeal, siding with Barreto's lawyers.
According to Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, "driver distraction can be deadly, and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk.". The Government's decision to completely ban hand-held phones during Road Safety Week was greatly welcomed.
“This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones.”
In the Government's consultation, 81% of respondents said they supported proposals to strengthen the law and make it easier to prosecute violators.
Technology drives the changes
Stephenson's motoring law expert, Paul Loughlin, 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.”
To clarify the new measures, the Government will also update The Highway Code to make it clear that stationary in traffic is considered driving, and that hand-held mobile phone use at traffic lights or in road jams is illegal except in very limited circumstances.
Exceptions to mobile ban while driving
To ensure that the law stays up to date with technology, drivers making contactless payments using their mobile phones while stationary will be exempt from the new law.
Among the places this exemption will apply are places like drive-through restaurants and road tolls, and only when payment is made with a card reader. It will not allow drivers to make general online payments while driving.
We believe that most of us agree that using a mobile phone while driving, regardless of what it's used for, is dangerous. This new law is welcome as it will make our roads safer. Please let us know what you think.