Just two percent of UK motorists believe new laws on mobile phone use while driving will be “very effective” in changing driver behaviour, according to new research. The new laws introduced this month effectively outlaw any use of a handheld phone while behind the wheel, although there are some notable exceptions.

Under the new rules announced by the Department for Transport (DfT), motorists will now be breaking the law if they scroll through images, play games or take photos on a handheld device while driving. The rule essentially closes a loophole in the old law, and anyone caught using a handheld device while behind the wheel could face a fine of up to £1,000 as well as 6 points on their licence or a full driving ban.

The only exceptions to the rules include emergencies where it’s unsafe to stop, such as on a motorway, and using a phone for payment at a drive-thru. Drivers can also use phones in cradles mounted on the windscreen or dashboard, allowing the use of smartphones for navigation. However, if use of such a set-up means a driver is not in proper control of their vehicle, they can be prosecuted.

Van driver texting with phone while driving

Although the DfT says 81 percent of people support the changes, and the RAC’s study of 2,000 motorists found 75 percent were in favour of the rule change, the motoring organisation’s study also shows just two percent think the rule change will be “very effective” in changing behaviour. Less than half (49 percent) thought it would be “partly effective” while 45 percent said it wouldn’t make any difference.

Of those who fear the changes will not make the roads safer, 86 percent said that would be because some drivers will still use a phone illegally regardless of the law, while 70 percent said drivers don’t feel they will get caught. And nearly three in 10 (28 percent) said the government would not do enough to make drivers aware of the changes.

Driver with a mobile phone in hand while driving

The respondents to the RAC study were split on what should be done to enforce the new rules, with 23 percent suggesting more visible police enforcement while 24 percent suggested an advertising campaign. A similar proportion (26 percent) said even tougher punishments should be introduced as a deterrent, while 20 percent said they would like to see cameras used to catch drivers acting illegally.

“It’s clear that most drivers are supportive of the law being strengthened to make it easier to prosecute drivers who put lives at risk by using a handheld phone,” said RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis. “After all, using a phone to take a photo or look at a playlist is at least as distracting as using it to talk or text.

Young family taking selfie with phone in car

"But while we welcome today’s law change and very much hope it will make a difference, it’s arguable that it will only be truly effective if it’s rigorously enforced. If some drivers still don’t feel they’re likely to be caught, then simply making the law tougher isn’t going to have the desired effect of making our roads safer. That explains why such a tiny proportion of drivers – just two percent - think the new changes will be very effective in changing behaviour.

“The dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement, and that means police forces having the resources and technology they need to more easily catch those drivers that continue to flout the law. Cameras that can automatically detect handheld phone use exist and are in use in other countries, so we think it’s high time the UK government evaluated this technology with a view to allowing police forces to deploy it at the earliest opportunity.”