New law in the UK has tightened up the ban on using mobile phones since January. Photo: BBC

The Government has announced plans to significantly tighten up the ban on using mobile phones whilst driving and the new law will come into effect in 2021. UK drivers will be breaking the law if they pick up and use their mobile phones while driving from January, reported Visor Down.

Today, mobile phones (and other devices) can do much more than when the law was introduced in 2003. There is a specific offense of using a hand-held mobile phone, in force since 2003. It is against the law to ‘use’ one for an ‘interactive communication’, Ashton Legal cites. Both things must be proved. It means police must be able to establish not merely holding the device but that something interactive is going on. If a driver is seen chatting on the phone, it is pretty easy to prove, of course. But if the driver is using it to, say, access music is this interactive (e.g. streaming Spotify) or not (pre-loaded music stored in the device)?

Some uses of the mobile phone are currently not ‘interactive communication’, they are cameras, music players, and much more. But, whatever the purpose, their use when driving is a distraction and highly dangerous.

In short, the current law:

  • is out of date – mobile phones today are no longer just used for calls and texts
  • is hard for police to enforce at the roadside
  • currently allows mobile phone use that is technically lawful, but actually unsafe.

What the story of mobile phones handling changes with the new law?

The consultation proposes to:

  • Broaden the offense of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving so that it captures standalone mode functions as well as the existing interactive communication functions;
  • Introduce a new exemption to the using a hand-held mobile phone while driving offense to allow drivers to make contactless payments using a mobile phone at appropriate locations, for example at drive-through food outlets.

The changes, if implemented, will need to be reflected in The Highway Code, and the consultation document includes the suggested revised wording, as cited by Safety and Health Practitioner.

The consultation document is set out as follows:

  • Chapter one sets out the problems that have arisen since the mobile phone offense was initially enacted in 2003. The main problem is that the offense is restricted to functions involving interactive communication and does not capture the range of standalone functions that drivers can now perform using a hand-held mobile phone. It also sets out how the Government intends to be clearer in law about the types of devices that are covered by the offense.
  • Chapter two deals with a proposed new exemption from the offense of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving. It explains that the Government does not wish to thwart technological advances and wants to make provision for them where it is safe and sensible to do so. Against this background, the document proposes an exemption for drivers who make a contactless payment for goods or services that they receive immediately, for example at a drive-through restaurant.
  • Chapter three proposes amending the advice in the Highway Code about using mobile phones while driving. It sets out a revised Rule 149 which takes account of the proposed change to the law described in Chapters one and two.
Photo: Rivervale Leasing

Therefore, the driver holds the mobile phone or similar device and he/she is:

  • making or receiving a phone call
  • sending a text message or an e-mail
  • accessing social media sites
  • accessing streaming services.

According to What Car, in announcing the consultation, roads minister Baroness Charlotte Vere said: “We’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a handheld 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.”

This means that when holding the phone (or another device) the following activities (and possibly more) would become prohibited:

  • illuminating the screen
  • unlocking the device
  • checking the time or for notifications
  • rejecting a call
  • composing texts or e-mails to save in drafts
  • taking photos or videos or using the phone’s camera as a mirror
  • searching for music stored on the phone
  • searching for photos or other images stored in the phone
  • dictating voice messages into the phone
  • read a book or playing a game downloaded on the phone.

Some exceptions, you can use a hand-held phone if either of these applies:

  • you’re safely parked
  • you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop

What are the penalties for breaking the new law of handling mobile phone?

Photo: AutoSlash

You can get 6 penalty points and a £200 fine if you use a hand-held phone when driving, and you’ll also lose your license if you passed your driving test in the last 2 years, reported Government UK. You can get 3 penalty points if you don’t have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle.

You can also be taken to court where you can:

  • be banned from driving or riding
  • get a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you’re driving a lorry or bus)
The hands-free use of a mobile in a holder for various functions, such as sat-nav guidance, will remain legal. However, drivers who type in destinations while on the move could still be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention. The consultation period will end in January 2021, and the law is expected to change soon afterward.
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