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Government clamps down on handheld mobile phone use while driving

Consultation found 81 per cent of public in favour of tougher rules

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that it will clamp down on motorists who use hand-held mobile phones while driving – including making it clear that they cannot use them while at traffic lights or in tailbacks, and banning their use for taking photos or video from the driver’s seat, among other things.

The news follows a public consultation which found that 81 per cent of respondents were in favour of tougher rules against drivers using handheld devices at the wheel.

The new rules will close a loophole resulting from a 2019 High Court ruling, DPP v Barreto, in which the latter appealed against a magistrates’ court conviction (previously upheld at Crown Court) for filming a crash scene as he drove past.

The High Court held that the law did not prohibit all use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving, but only phone calls and other types of “interactive communication,” and did not apply to using a hand-held device to record video.

While allowing Barreto’s appeal, however, Lady Justice Thirwell, was firm that the ruling did not give carte blanche to drivers to use their phones in that way, underlining that they could still be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving.

Nevertheless, the judgment did create a potential defence for motorists using a handheld mobile phone while driving, and it is one that the DfT wants to remove.

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Currently, other than in an emergency, drivers are banned from using a handheld mobile phone while driving to make a voice call or send a text or other message, but new legislation will also prohibit them from taking photos or videos, playing games, or scrolling through playlists.

The Highway Code will now also make it clear that drivers are not allowed to use a handheld device while stopped at traffic lights or sitting in traffic jams – something many, of course, do with the broadcaster Jeremy Vine filming one such example near Marble Arch in London just this week.

Existing punishments of a £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on a driving licence will remain in force, and drivers will still be permitted to use devices hands-free, for example for navigation, so long as it is secured in a cradle, and even then police can take action if drivers are found to be distracted.

Motorists will also be allowed to use a handheld device to make a contactless payment, for instance when paying at a drive-thru restaurant or to pay a road toll, but only if the payment is made in conjunction with a card reader.

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said: “Too many deaths and injuries occur while 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.

“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.”

Mary Williams, chief executive of the road safety charity Brake, said: “Driver distraction can be deadly and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk. This important road safety decision by government, coinciding with Road Safety Week, is very welcomed.

“This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones. The theme for Road Safety Week is road safety heroes – we can all be road safety heroes by giving driving our full attention.”

The DfT has also published the results of a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI about drivers’ use of mobile phones, which found that younger motorists are more likely to have used a handheld device at the wheel.

Image above licensed CC BY 2.0 by DPP Law on Flickr – see www.dpp-law.com/driving-offences-statistics/

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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