The Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed that a legal loophole which has allowed drivers to escape prosecution for hand-held mobile phone use while behind the wheel is to be closed.

Under current legislation, people filming or taking photographs while driving are unlikely to be successfully prosecuted, as they are not engaging in what the existing law defines as “interactive communication”.

The proposed new rules will extend the law to cover these other uses of mobile phones. The law would still allow the use of phones in cases of genuine emergency as outlined in What’s New Guide on driving and hand-held and hands-free mobile phones.

Any driver caught texting, taking photos, browsing the internet or scrolling through a playlist while behind the wheel could therefore be prosecuted for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

The move is a direct response to a recent recommendation from the House of Commons Transport Committee.

In Road Safety: Driving While Using a Mobile Phone (available at publications.parliament.uk), the Committee recommended that the Government should redefine the offence of driving while using a mobile phone or other device, so that it covers all hand-held usage, irrespective of whether it involves sending or receiving data.

Commenting on the decision, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that, while the Government recognises that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern-day life, it is also committed to making roads safe.

“Drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone are hindering their ability to spot hazards and react in time — and putting people’s lives at risk,” he said.

A review of existing legislation is to be conducted “urgently” with proposals expected to be adopted by spring 2020.

The action has been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), with Nick Lloyd, Head of Road Safety, pointing out that drivers who use their phones are up to four times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Last reviewed 14 November 2019