Having been caught with its pants down in recent years by people using enterprising defences, the government will next year make it illegal to use a mobile phone in a much wider range of circumstances, including taking photos, scrolling through playlists or playing games. The underlying message is clear: should you be caught with your phone in your hand for virtually any reason while at the wheel, you will likely incur a £200 fixed penalty notice and six points on your licence.
Of course it is already illegal to text or make a call while driving, but the law has evidently failed to keep pace with the sheer number of functions available to a smartphone user. As a result, and in the absence of a specific offence, the police are said to have resorted to charging people with dangerous driving, which is presumably harder to prosecute - especially when the culprit was sat at traffic lights trying to find their Monday morning playlist. Now the law will be more precise about the fact that being stationary in traffic counts as driving, and make it clear that mobile phone use is illegal except in very limited circumstances.
"Too many deaths and injuries occur while mobile phones are being held" noted Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. "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." The planned changed in legislation is said to follow a public consultation that found 81 per cent of respondents supported the government proposals.
Drivers will still be permitted to use a device in 'hands-free' mode, and as a sat nav, but it must be secured in an appropriate cradle while doing so. There will also be an exemption to the new law for drivers making a contactless payment - so you won't have to risk your licence buying a sausage and egg McMuffin or paying the M6 toll - but obviously general online payments are not allowed. So no buying that lamp on Amazon. The government's announcement coincides with Road Safety Week, and it intends to update the Highway Code in due course to reflect the changes. You have been warned.