Although not at all in the spirit of “driver safety”, up until October 2020, drivers could, legally, snap a quick photo and even play a game on their mobile whilst driving. To responsible drivers, the intention of the law was always clear, we do not use our mobile phones when driving to avoid harm to ourselves and others, but for those drivers caught phone in hand, the loopholes in this law gave a relatively easy way for them to avoid prosecution. The need for the law to be tightened up was clear and it only has positive benefits in terms of reduced traffic incidents, and accident-related fatalities caused by the distraction of mobile phone usage.
Those driving any vehicle whilst holding a hand-held device, under any circumstance, will now be breaking the law. Technically, using a mobile phone or sat-nav whilst driving is not prohibited so long as, and this is key, they are hands-free. Ideally, any journey would be made free from as little distraction as possible and therefore the use of even hands-free devices should be minimised. However, the consequences of holding a device whilst driving are what is most detrimental to drivers under this legislative change. Fleet drivers can cause a detrimental impact not only to themselves but their companies’ reputation. The penalties in place for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving are 6 penalty points and a £200 fine, new drivers are liable to immediately lose their licence. The new law states that drivers and riders must have hands free technologies be that; voice command, dashboard holder or mat, built-in satnav hands free Bluetooth headset or windscreen mounts.
The UK Roads minister stated “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 21st century”, which can only be done by our laws keeping up to date with technological advances. The introduction of this law follows mounting pressure from the vehicle community that is likely to have brought about the move. A past Motorpoint poll of 2,180 people found 86.4% of respondents wanted to see more power given to police to enforce this law and discipline anyone caught holding their phone while driving. Jack Cousens Head of road policy at AA applauded the new tighter regulation and in his response to the Guardian, stated that drivers ought to be “focused on the road ahead and not the tweet or email that has just pinged to their phone.” Once again emphasising what all drivers deep down know, any activity whilst driving, is a distraction and therefore a risk.
Tightening of this law is certainly welcome in terms of enhancing road safety and in the consultation on changing the law by the DfT, Baroness Vere of Norbiton drives home the point with the statement “various surveys have suggested that around 40% of the population are addicted to their mobile phone. What we want to achieve is 100% of drivers being addicted to safe driving”.