Ministers must explore ban on hands-free phone use while driving, say MPs
Ministers must consider strengthening the ban on drivers using a mobile phone behind the wheel by outlawing hands-free use, MPs have said.
The Transport Committee said the risk of crashing was as high while using a hands-free device as it was when holding a phone, which has been illegal across the UK since 2003.
Experts warned the committee that such a ban would pose difficulties for those such as taxi drivers and delivery workers, who use their devices while on the road.
In their report, ministers said they accepted such a move would pose “practical challenges”, but added that “just because something is difficult this does not mean that we should not do it”.
“A hands-free device can be used lawfully, creating the misleading impression that hands-free use is safe,” it said.
“The evidence shows that using a hands-free device creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand-held device, and it is therefore inappropriate for the law to condone it by omission...
“We therefore recommend that the Government explore options for extending the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile phone or other device to hands-free devices.
“This should consider the evidence of the risks involved, the consequences of a ban, and the practicalities of enforcing it.”
Department for Transport figures for 2017 show there were 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries in collisions where a motorist's mobile phone use was a contributory factor.
The MPs' bid came as part of a wider call for tougher enforcement of the current laws in an effort to make phone use as “socially unacceptable as drink driving”.
Drivers face being hit with a fine of £200 plus six penalty points, which can lead to their licence being revoked.
But the committee said that since 2011 the rate of enforcement has plunged by more than two thirds, while in the same period the number of people killed or seriously injured has risen steadily.
The MPs also called for the rules on hand-held devices to be toughened up to bar use of a phone regardless of whether the driver is sending or receiving data.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood said: "Despite the real risk of catastrophic consequences for themselves, their passengers and other road users, far too many drivers continue to break the law by using hand-held mobile phones.
"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.
"There is also a misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. 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."
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “While mobile phones are a vital part of modern life and business, drivers must always use them safely and responsibly.
“Being distracted by a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and puts people’s lives at risk. The law is clear that anyone driving dangerously is committing a criminal offence.”