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Mobile phone driving laws to be tightened up

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Written by: Emma Lunn
01/11/2019
The government is aiming to improve road safety by closing a mobile phone loophole which allows people to escape prosecution for using their phone behind the wheel.

The move means drivers using their phone to take photos or video, surf the internet, scroll through a music playlist, or enter their destination in Google Maps, to be prosecuted in the same way they would be if they were making a call or sending a text.

At present, the law prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text. However, people caught filming or taking photos while driving have escaped punishment as lawyers have successfully argued this activity does not fit into the “interactive communication” currently outlawed by the legislation.

New legislation

The revised legislation will mean any driver caught texting, taking photos, browsing the internet or scrolling through a playlist while behind the wheel will be prosecuted for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving. The Department for Transport expects the proposals to be in place by spring 2020.

Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said: “We recognise that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern day life but we are also committed to making our roads safe. Drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone are hindering their ability to spot hazards and react in time – putting people’s lives at risk.

“We welcome the Transport Select Committee’s report, and share their drive to make our roads even safer which is why this review will look to tighten up the existing law to bring it into the 21st century, preventing reckless driving and reduce accidents on our roads.”

Criminal offence

It is already a criminal offence to use a phone while driving without a hands-free device. Since March 2017, motorists caught using a hand-held phone have faced incurring six points on their licence and a £200 fine – up from the previous penalty of three points and £100.

This latest move will see the government go further to ensure the law reflects the use of devices that allow other distracting activities.

Increased risk of accidents

The impact of this behaviour is proven – if a driver looks at their phone for just two seconds when travelling at 30 miles per hour, whether to reply to a message or send a quick snap, they will travel 100 feet blind, drastically increasing the chance of an accident.

The review will be urgently taken forward with further proposals expected to be in place by next spring, making the offence clearer for drivers and police forces.

However, there are no plans to ban hands-free phone use – something road safety group Brake is campaigning for.

Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, said: “We welcome the government’s move to clarify the law on using hand-held mobile devices while driving and close loopholes which treat sending or receiving data differently, allowing drivers acting dangerously to escape prosecution.

“The committee’s report was clear on the dangers of hands-free devices and it is troubling that they will not be banned despite the government’s acknowledgement of the risk. The current law provides a dangerous false impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit when driving – it is not. All phone use behind the wheel is dangerous and to get this message across to drivers the law must reflect this.”

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