A change in law is hoped to prevent widespread use of mobile phones amongst drivers, from next year.
Scrolling through playlists, taking photos or filming, gaming, browsing social media and searching online are all being banned, even when a car is at a standstill in traffic.
From 2022, motorists who are caught using their smartphone in such a way face the potential of six points on their licence and a £200 fine. The Highway Code will also be updated to reflect the changes.
The update follows a landmark case in 2019 when a driver overturned a charge for using a mobile phone when driving as he wasn’t using the device for communication reasons but filming a crash instead.
The changes, announced by the Department for Transport, will make it easier to prosecute drivers using and holding their phones while operating their vehicle. The present law means police have to rely on charging drivers with dangerous driving which lists “using a hand-held phone or other equipment” as one of its example offences.
However, the motorists will still be permitted to use their device for satellite navigation, provided it is secured in a cradle. It will also be permissible to swipe the screen to answer a call, as long as the phone does not leave the cradle. The only exception will be when paying for a toll or drive-through takeaway.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said it would make it simpler to prosecute anyone caught using their phone while driving. “Too many deaths and injuries occur whilst mobile phones are being held. 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.”
The change comes after a public consultation which found 81 per cent of respondents supported plans to strengthen the laws around mobile phone use while driving.
Mary Williams, the chief executive of Brake, a road safety charity, said the changes were “very welcome” especially “by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones”
However, despite the changes, some drivers feel that modern cars’ operating systems are as much a distraction as smartphones. Commenting on the news, Parm Sussex said: ‘This seems very out of date when most new cars have removed physical buttons and require you to use a touch screen to alter the temperature or change radio stations. How safe is it to be jabbing at a screen on your car to change the A/C down?’
Mobile phone driving laws were introduced in December 2003, and revised in 2007 to include the penalty of three points on a convicted driver’s licence and a £60 fine, later rising to £100. But from 1 March 2017, the penalty doubled, to six points and a £200 fine.
However, in 2020, the IAM road safety charity revealed 70 per cent of drivers believed mobile phone use behind the wheel had got worse over the last three years and 90 per cent viewed it as a threat to their personal safety.
A spokesman for the RAC said: “While today’s announcement is clearly good news, it’s absolutely vital that the new law is vigorously enforced otherwise there’s a risk that it won’t deliver the sort of change that will make our roads safer.”
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