Drivers to be banned from touching phones as Government closes loophole

Motorists are to be banned from any use of a handheld phone while driving under changes to the law.

Making calls and sending text messages is already illegal but a loophole means that it is still legal for drivers to take photographs, videos, scroll through music apps and play games while at the wheel.

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The current wording bans using a handheld device for “interactive communication”, which judges have ruled does not cover any actions beyond calling or texting.

The Department for Transport is now proposing a change to the law which will ban all handheld phone use while driving but which will still allow hands-free use, for example using a phone in a cradle as a sat nav.

Texting while driving is already illegal but the changes will extend the ban beyond interactive communications (Photo: Shutterstock)

The proposal has been put out to a 12-week public consultation and is expected to be passed into law early next year.

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Last year crashes where using a phone was a contributory factor caused 637 casualties, including 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries.

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One in five young drivers has made a video call at the wheel

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.

“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances – it’s distracting and dangerous and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”

The changes, which will apply throughout the UK, will mean any driver caught using a handheld device for any purpose will receive a £200 fine and six penalty points on their licence.

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The DfT said an exception will be included allowing drivers to pay for drive-through services using contactless technology on their phones as long as the car is stationary.

Using hand-held devices to text or call while driving is illegal 📱❌🚘

New plans to improve #RoadSafety could also make it illegal to...📸take photos📱browse the internet📧check emails and more#HaveYourSay in our consultation 👉

— Dept for Transport (@transportgovuk) October 17, 2020

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.

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“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”

AA president Edmund King OBE added: “There’s no excuse for picking up a mobile phone when driving so we’re pleased this loophole will be closed. Phones do so much more than calls and texts, so it’s only right that the law is changed to keep pace with technology. Tweets, TikTok and Instagram snaps can all wait until you park up.

“These new rules will clarify the law and help drivers realise that this dangerous act can have the same consequences and be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. If you cannot resist the temptation to pick up your phone, then you should convert your glovebox into a phone box.”

Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for Brake, welcomed the planned change but said the ban should go further and include hands-free phone use as well.

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He commented: "We welcome the Government’s move to improve the law on mobile phone use behind the wheel, ensuring that drivers who are caught taking photos or playing games when driving can be appropriately punished. This announcement is timely, with driver distraction an increasing scourge on our roads and a recent report revealing that 1 in 10 young drivers admit to playing games behind the wheel and a further 1 in 5 say they participate in video calls.

“When amending the law on phone use when driving, the Government must also take the opportunity to prohibit the use of hands-free devices. The current law gives the impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit when the evidence is clear that it is not. Banning hands-free devices may be challenging but we urge the Government to prioritise the lives of road users and take action now.”