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Redefine mobile phone driving offence, MPs urge

By Jemma Slingo

The ban on drivers using mobile phones should be extended to include hands-free devices, a group of MPs has told the government. The law should also apply to all mobile phone usage, not just the sending and receiving of data, it said.

The Commons transport select committee said  the fact that hands-free devices can be used lawfully ‘creates the misleading impression that hands-free is safe use’. The report says that in reality using a hands-free device ‘creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand-held mobile’.

According to one expert quoted in the report, conducting a hands-free call is as distracting as being at the UK legal limit for alcohol blood level.

The select committee recommended, therefore, that the government extend the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile phone to hands-free devices.

At the moment, the law also states that a driver commits the offence of driving while using a mobile phone only if they are sending or receiving data. The committee recommends that the government redefine the offence so that it includes all mobile usage, such as taking videos at the wheel.

The number of mobile phone motoring offences which have resulted in enforcement action has fallen by more than two thirds since 2011. According to the report, this has coincided with year-on-year increases in the number of casualties in collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor.

The select committee said that government should review the penalty for using a mobile phone at the wheel, which is currently 6 penalty points and a £200 fine. Over a third of respondents to a 2016 government consultation suggested higher fines, ranging from £250 to £10,000.

The select committee said: ‘Higher penalties are clearly not a panacea to the problem of motorists driving while using a mobile phone, but penalties are a good way for the government to signal the seriousness of an offence.’

Paul Loughlin, motoring solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said: ‘For many, these proposals will be a welcome step forward. However, the proposals also raise questions around the ability of the police to enforce these laws.

‘It’s much easier to spot a driver using a hand-held device behind the wheel than it would be for a driver using a hands-free device. It’s also not clear how the police would enforce this law with motorcyclists who use Bluetooth helmets.’

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)