The government has tightened the rules on using mobile phones behind the wheel, removing loopholes in the law. From next year, the law will change so drivers can be stopped for taking photos or videos, scrolling through playlists or playing games while driving.
Using a handheld mobile phone to make a call or send a text message while driving is already outlawed (except in emergencies), but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes would bring the rule “into the 21st century”.
Under the revamped rules, drivers will still be able to use a device such as satellite navigation ‘hands-free’ while driving, as long as it’s secured in a cradle. However, drivers still have to “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.
At the same time, the government has pledged to revise The Highway Code in a bid to explain the new measures more clearly. The rulebook will also be “more precise” about the fact the law includes being stationary in traffic as driving, and making it clear that hand-held mobile phone use at traffic lights or in motorway jams is illegal except in “very limited circumstances”.
One such exemption will be a new law for drivers making a contactless payment using their mobile phone while stationary, which the Department for Transport (DfT) described as a measure to “ensure the law keeps pace with technology”. The DfT has been clear that this exemption will only cover places including drive-through restaurants or a toll booth, 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.
According to the DfT, the new rules have overwhelming public support, with the department claiming 81 percent of respondents to a consultation supported proposals to strengthen the law. And road safety charity Brake also welcomed the news, with the charity’s chief executive, Mary Williams saying the change was an “important” decision.
“Driver distraction can be deadly and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk,” she said. “This important road safety decision by the government is very welcome. This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones. We can all be road safety heroes by giving driving our full attention.”
Meanwhile Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the rules would protect everyone on the road.
“Too many deaths and injuries occur while mobile phones are being held,” he said. “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.”