Government takes aim at mobile phone road safety loopholes

Phone driving

The government will seek to tighten the law around the use of handheld mobile devices on the road, but will not extend a ban to hands free use.

Responding to the Transport Committee’s Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone report, the government today said that rules on hand-held mobile device use in cars must ‘reflect the real world’, in which phones are used for more than calls and texting.

It hopes to have proposals in place by Spring 2020.

The government pledged to refocus its efforts to assist the Crown Prosecution Service to take “effective enforcement action” against offenders.

However it cautioned that penalties – currently a £200 fixed penalty and six penalty points – are unlikely to change.

While ministers have ruled out banning hands free use in vehicles, the Department for Transport will seek views on the use of hands free phones in its upcoming review of road traffic policing.

It will consider amendments to the Highway Code and the inclusion of information on hands free in road safety campaigns.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, said: “The government’s decision to accept our recommendation to tighten up the law around the use of handheld mobile phones while driving is great news. The difference between interactive communications and standalone functions on our phones is a loophole that has prevented police from prosecuting drivers who continue to use their phones behind the wheel and put themselves and other road users at risk.

“Our evidence showed that the risk from hands free devices is just as real. While we’re pleased that ministers will prioritise work on handheld mobiles, this issue still needs to be addressed. We’d like the department to keep us informed of their work to examine the risks of hands-free use and the wider context of education and enforcement. 

“The department’s thoughtful response to our report demonstrates a willingness to engage with the committee on issues of concern to the public. It pulls together several initiatives it has recently announced and work with other groups such as the public, local government and devolved administrations. I am pleased that the scrutiny work of our cross-party committee is having an impact and helping to improve safety on our roads.”

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, added: “The moment someone picks up their phone while behind the wheel they are a danger to themselves and others.

“These tougher rules are common sense and re-enforce what we have been campaigning on. Drivers should be focused on the road ahead and not the tweet or email that has just pinged to their phone.

“Closing the loopholes are one thing, getting more cops in cars to actually catch people in the act will help deter drivers further.”

In 2018 there were 683 casualties, including 29 deaths and 118 serious injuries, in crashes where a driver had been using a mobile phone was a significant factor, according to official figures.

Hands free

Zurich UK CEO Tulsi Naidu has previously called for stricter laws on the use of mobile phones in vehicles, including banning the use of hands free devices.

Speaking at Post’s Motor Insurance World event in June, Naidu said: “I would ban all forms of mobile phones and similar devices; anything that can help reduce distracted driving is positive.

“We have a tweet going out today calling on employers not to encourage staff to have conference calls while they are driving.”

A Zurich spokesperson today said: “We welcome any focus on improving road safety, particularly as the push towards autonomous vehicles gathers pace, and we fully support the Government’s decision to accept the recommendation to tighten up the law around the use of handheld mobile phones while driving. The fact that the Department for Transport are working to further understand the risks of hands-free use is a positive step, the outcome of which will be very important not just for road users’ safety but also for the insurance industry as a whole.”

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at road safety charity Iam Roadsmart, today said: “The facts are there to see – the use of mobile phones for any purpose and in any manner while driving is distracting and potentially fatal.

“Today’s news is good, but not good enough. The increased penalties introduced in 2017, six points and a £200 fine, did change drivers’ behaviour for a while, but bad habits are creeping back in. Drivers keep doing it because they don’t think they will get caught, and they don’t appreciate they are risking lives.

“Mobile speed cameras need to be employed more broadly to also catch drivers using hand-held phones. Drivers need to know their actions could kill.”

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