Portland News

Loophole for Handheld Phone Use While Driving Now Closed

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A loophole that allowed drivers to get away with punishment for using handheld phones has closed in Great Britain.

The fines for handheld phone use reach up to £1,000, and drivers can receive six points on their license for scrolling through playlists or taking pictures on a handheld device.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was taking a “zero-tolerance approach”.

Hands-free devices can still be used while driving if secure in a cradle.

The law change extends an existing offense that includes making phone calls or sending text messages. This change does not apply in Northern Ireland.

In July 2019, a man repealed a conviction for filming a crash by saying he was not using his phone “to communicate.”

Two High Court judges criticized the law on using phones while driving following that ruling. The judges said that the law had failed to evolve with technology.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), 17 people have been killed and 114 seriously injured in vehicular accidents involving a driver using a mobile phone.

Drivers can still use their phones if their vehicle is stationary, especially for contactless payments at drive-through restaurants, the DfT said.

Shapps said, “I will do everything in my power to keep road users safe, which is why I am taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who decide to risk lives by using their phone behind the wheel.

“I’m ensuring anyone who chooses to break this vital law can face punishment for doing so, and we’ll continue our efforts to ensure our roads remain among the safest in the world.”

Phones behind the wheel: the law

The law requires drivers to take note of the following:

  • Using a handheld mobile phone while driving is illegal
  • Any hands-free devices should be fully set up before driving
  • Police still have the power to stop a driver if they think the driver is distracted
  • The law still applies even if stopped in traffic or queueing at lights
  • Penalty points, a fine, and/or a driving ban may apply if the law is broken

The Automobile Association warmly welcomed the changes and said it wanted using a handheld phone while driving to be “as socially unacceptable as drunk driving.”

“This is a much needed toughening of the rules to help make our roads safer,” the organization’s president, Edmund King, said.

He further expressed that “playing” with a phone in a cradle would still leave drivers open to careless or dangerous driving charges.

In a public consultation, 81% of respondents had supported the move, prompting the government to change the law.

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.