MOTORISTS are being warned that stricter new laws around using a mobile phone while behind the wheel are coming into force today.
From Friday, March 25 drivers cannot use a hand-held device while behind the wheel for any reason.
This could be to scroll through music playlists, call somebody or even just pick it up to unlock it or check the time.
The only exemptions to this law will be in an emergency situation or making a contactless payment at a terminal such as at a drive-through.
National law firm Stephensons has welcomed the changes and warned that new drivers if caught and prosecuted could have their license revoked and be forced to re-sit their driving test.
What is the law at the moment?
At the moment, it is an offense to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar device for ‘interactive communication’ while driving. That includes making and receiving phone calls, texting, or accessing the internet.
Those laws first came into force in 2003 and, while the penalties have been increased during that time, the ingredients of the offense and the definitions and interpretations of those ingredients have not changed substantially.
Given the developments in mobile technology over the years, with ever more sophisticated features and functionality, the government has been keen to ensure that the law reflects those changes.
So, what will the new laws be?
Anyone found to be using a hand-held device while behind the wheel, for any reason, will be committing an offense. This means that anyone picking up their mobile phone device to film or watch videos, play games or scroll through their music playlists while driving will be breaking the law. Significantly, this also extends to picking up your phone to unlock the device, illuminate the screen, check the time or even rejecting an inbound telephone call.
Will there be any exemptions?
Other than in emergency situations, the only other permitted use of a hand-held device will be while driving to make a contactless payment at a payment terminal for goods or services – such as a drive-through takeaway. You must ensure that the vehicle is stationary while using your phone to make the payment, however.
What are the penalties?
Anyone found to be breaking the law will be subject to a £200 fine and six points on their driving license.
Commenting on the changes, solicitor and motoring law specialist at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, Paul Loughlin said: “While this change is a very welcome development in ensuring safer roads, there will be many people left scratching their heads as to why this change in the law didn’t happen sooner.
“Legislation around mobile phone use behind the wheel has always appeared to be out of step with the evolution of mobile technology and the way in which we interact with mobile devices. These laws were last updated nearly twenty years ago. The most recent public consultation established that 81 percent of people support the tightening up of these rules.
“As ever, the challenge will come back to both education and enforcement. Many drivers have ingrained habits when behind the wheel and unfortunately some don’t hesitate to check their phones, often below the line of sight for any passing police officer to notice.
“While this legislation will certainly act as a greater deterrent, it is important that we now see a sustained effort to educate drivers of this change as well as tough enforcement from the police. The reality is that these changes mean that, aside from the exemption allowing the use of the phone to make contactless payments when your vehicle is stationary, holding your phone and interacting with it whilst driving, whether in stationary traffic or not, will see you prosecuted if caught.
“For a driver who has been driving for less than two years, this would mean that you would have your license revoked and would have to re-sit your driving test.”