Mobile phone use behind the wheel is to be outlawed as the Government will close a loophole that allowed drivers to check social media.
New highway rules mean motorists will face an automatic £200 fine and six points on their licence if caught handling their phone while driving.
The law change, which is due to come into effect early next year, will allow drivers to touch their phone and use it in a limited way if it is in a holder.
Ministers have also put in an exemption allowing people to use their phone to make payments while their car is stationary, such as when at a drive-through takeaway.
The Government said the changes, which have been broadly welcomed by motoring and road safety groups, will make it “easier” for police to prosecute drivers caught using their phone behind the wheel.
‘Too many deaths’
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, 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.”
Under the reformed laws, drivers will be able to use their phones in certain circumstances, such as to make a call in an emergency.
They will also be able to use hands-free smartphone applications, such as satnav, as long as the phone is in a holder or cradle.
However, ministers stressed drivers would still have a legal obligation to keep their attention on the road even when interacting with a phone in a holder.
The reforms, originally mooted last year, are looking to close a legal loophole that allowed drivers to wriggle out of convictions for using their phone while driving.
The current legislation, which was last updated in 2003, banned people only from “interactive communications” behind the wheel.
At the time the law was written, mobile phones were principally used to make texts and calls and fails to cover the multitude of applications – and potential distractions – modern smartphones offer.
In 2019, Ramsey Barreto, a builder, successfully used the loophole in the High Court to overturn a conviction for filming a car accident, by arguing that the law only prohibited texting.
A number of celebrities have also been able to use the loophole, such as comedian Jimmy Carr, whose lawyer successfully had him cleared in 2008 of driving while using a phone by arguing he had been using his smartphone to record a joke rather than make a call.
Yet in recent years, police have become increasingly concerned about drivers being distracted by their smartphones.
‘Don’t stream and drive’ campaign
In 2017, forces launched a series of “don’t stream and drive campaigns” asking motorists not to take pictures and videos while driving.
The new law changes have been praised by driving safety organisations, which said that using a phone behind the wheel was as dangerous as drink driving.
Edmund King, president of the AA, 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.”
Mary Williams, the chief executive of Brake, the road safety charity, said: “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.”