Published: 05:00, 19 November 2021
| Updated: 13:50, 19 November 2021
Using a hand-held mobile phone for any reason while driving is to become illegal.
It is already against the law to text or make a phone call – other than in an emergency – but the government says it plans to strengthen existing laws to make it illegal to hold a phone while behind the wheel under 'virtually any circumstance'.
As a result, from next year, drivers will be banned from using their phones to take photos or videos, scroll through music playlists, search for information or play games.
The Highway Code is also to be updated to make it clear that hand-held phone use at traffic lights or in traffic jams is also illegal as it becomes more precise about the fact that being in stationary traffic also counts as driving.
Police, says the Department for Transport, will be able to more easily prosecute drivers found with a phone at the wheel as a result of the changes.
Drivers will still be able to use their devices 'hands-free' for services such as a phone's navigation or maps system, providing it is secured in a cradle.
But they too can still be charged with an offence if the police were to find they were not in proper control of their vehicle.
Anyone caught using their hand-held device while driving faces a £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on their licence.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Too many deaths and injuries occur whilst mobile phones are being held.
"By making it easier to prosecute people illegally using their phone at the wheel, we are ensuring the law is brought into the 21st Century while further protecting all road users.
“While our roads remain among the safest in the world, we will continue working tirelessly to make them safer, including through our award-winning THINK! campaign, which challenges social norms among high-risk drivers.”
The decision, say ministers, follows public consultations which found that 81% of people supported a strengthening of the law that would make it easier to punish people.
There will be one exemption to the law – for drivers making a contactless payment using their mobile phone while stationary.
This could cover occasions like paying for food or drink at a drive-through restaurant or the costs of a toll road and will only apply when the payment is being made using a phone and a card reader and won't permit motorists to make any general online shopping payments while behind the wheel of their car.
Mary Williams OBE, chief executive of road safety charity Brake welcomes the move.
She explained: “Driver distraction can be deadly and using a hand-held phone at the wheel is never worth the risk.
"This news is particularly welcomed by families suffering bereavement and catastrophic injury due to drivers being distracted by phones.
"The theme for Road Safety Week is road safety heroes – we can all be road safety heroes by giving driving our full attention.”
Edmund King, AA president, said a move to clarify what exactly is acceptable hands free use will make the rules clearer for drivers and called for an increase in police patrols to catch offenders.
He said: “Picking up a mobile phone whilst driving is dangerous and we welcome this change to the law. It helps to clarify what is acceptable when using them hands-free when driving and what poses a threat.
“By making mobile phone use as socially unacceptable as drink driving, we are taking big steps to make our roads safer.
"For years, the AA has campaigned hard and helped educate drivers to the dangers from bad mobile phone use.
“To help ensure drivers get the message, we also need more cops in cars to help catch and deter those still tempted to pick up.”