Call for crackdown on phone use at the wheel

Options to ban the use of hands free mobile phones while driving should be set out by the Government before the end of the year, the Transport Select Committee has urged in a new report.

Evidence presented to the Committee shows that talking on a hands free device creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand held phone at the wheel. But currently only the latter is illegal.

“There is a misleading impression that hands free use is safe,” said the Committee’s chair Lilian Greenwood. “The reality is that any use of a phone distracts from a driver’s ability to pay full attention and the Government should consider extending the ban to reflect this.”

The report recommends that the Government should now consider the consequences of extending the ban and the practicalities of enforcing it. A public consultation along these lines should be published by the end of 2019, it adds.

Road safety group IAM RoadSmart welcomed the recommendation but highlighted the difficulty of enforcing a ban on hands free use. “New laws and tougher penalties are welcome but will only work if the fear of being caught is increased,” said its director of policy and research Neil Greig.

“Technology is changing however,” he added. “With the introduction of call blocking while in motion and other such measures, we would support the legislative change to ban hands free to match hand held.”

The Road Haulage Association expressed concern about the impact a ban on hands free communication would have on commercial drivers. “We totally agree that drivers should not touch their phone while driving,” said chief executive Richard Burnett.

But, he added: “Ours is an industry that is time critical and the ever increasing levels of congestion on the road network mean that communication is more important than ever. It’s vital that the driver can stay in touch.“

“Voice activated devices, as fitted in the majority of vehicles, make communication safe and viable.”

The Transport Select Committee’s report also recommends that current laws relating to hand held mobile devices should be overhauled to cover all use, irrespective of whether this involves sending or receiving data. It adds that penalties for hand held mobile phone use by drivers should be reviewed and potentially increased.

It also calls for The Government to work with police to boost enforcement of mobile phone offences and make better use of technology.

“Each death and serious injury which results from a driver using a mobile phone is a tragedy that is entirely avoidable,” said Lilian Greenwood. “If mobile phone use while driving is to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving much more effort needs to go into educating drivers about the risks and consequences of using a phone behind the wheel. Offenders also need to know there is a credible risk of being caught, and that there are serious consequences for being caught.”