Drivers taking photos or scrolling social media or the internet on their phones will get an instant £200 fine, under new Government plans to close a loophole letting motorists use devices behind the wheel.
The Department for Transport on Saturday unveiled proposals that would lead to immediate penalties if drivers are found to be handling phones in any way while the car is moving.
The new rules will maintain an exception for people using their phone as a satnav, as long as it’s in a holder, and create an exemption allowing people to use their phone to make a payment while stationary.
The move aims to update current laws, which were last revised in 2003, that only ban using "interactive communication" behind the wheel – a definition that meant using smartphones for other purposes were not explicitly prohibited.
Drivers distracted by their devices could still be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving if they caused an accident.
In 2019, builder Ramsey Barreto successfully used the loophole to overturn his conviction in the High Court, for filming a car accident in Ruislip, west London, by arguing the law only prohibited texting.
The issue has become more pronounced as smartphones have become more powerful in the intervening 17 years. For instance, since 2017 police forces have launched a series of 'Don't Stream and Drive' campaigns to discourage young motorists from taking pictures or selfies while driving.
The Department for Transport also released research commissioned by it from the University of Leeds that laid bare how frequently drivers are picking up their phone.
A study of 51 British drivers found that they used their phones 662 times during 765 trips, with only 32 of those times via their phone's hands-free function.
Under the new rules, the police will be able to give an immediate £200 fine, and six penalty points, to drivers seen handling their phone and using it in any way.
Ministers expect the changes to the law to come into force early next year, following a consultation period.
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."
Under the new regime, drivers will be able to use their phones for certain limited functions such as navigation, if it is a holder or 'cradle'.
An exemption has also been made for people using their phones for payments at takeaway drive-throughs, where a phone can be handled if the vehicle is stationary and the goods or services are "delivered immediately".
The new rule only applies to devices that drivers can pick up, so do not cover drivers wearing gadgets such as smart watches.
The proposed rule change has been welcomed by senior police officers, who said it would make enforcement more clear cut for officers on the ground.
National Police Chiefs’ council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: "Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.
"Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome."
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