by Richard Vaughan
MPs have demanded that ministers look into bringing in a ban on motorists using hands-free mobile phones while driving.
The controversial measures have been recommended as evidence suggests the use of hands-free mobiles can create the “same risk of a collision” as using hand-held mobiles, the Commons Transport Committee warned.
Driving law only prohibits the use of phones being held by drivers, which MPs believe gives the “misleading impression” that hands-free is safe.
The cross-party committee acknowledged that there would be practical challenges to criminalising hands-free phone use and enforcing the offence, but insisted “this does not mean that we should not do it”.
Mobile phone ban extension
It recommended that the Government should explore options for extending the current ban on hand-held mobiles and publish a public consultation on the issue by the end of 2019.
In 2017, there were 773 casualties on Britain’s roads – including 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries – in crashes where a driver using a mobile was a contributory factor.
The committee said the number of people killed or seriously injured in such accidents has risen steadily since 2011 but the rate of enforcement regarding phone use has plunged by more than two-thirds since the same year.
It called for the police to make greater use of technology to crack down on drivers using their mobiles while driving, as it admitted that police forces were already under financial strain.
The Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, said, “Far too many drivers continue to break the law by using hand-held mobile phones.
“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.”
Dr Graham Hole, of the University of Sussex, and Dr Gemma Briggs, at the Open University, said the risks of using a mobile phone hands-free were the same as for hand-held use. The academics said drivers using any kind of phone were four times more likely to be involved in a collision.
The Department for Transport said it would respond to the report in due course, but said dangerous driving was already a crime.
“Being distracted by a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and puts people’s lives at risk,” a spokeswoman said.
“The law is clear that anyone driving dangerously is committing a criminal offence.”
Calls for tough action
Joshua Harris, the director of campaigns for road safety charity, Brake, said, “We welcome the calls from MPs in the Transport Committee to tackle the dangers of phone use behind the wheel.
“Using a phone whilst driving can impair you as much as driving drunk but stronger laws and tougher enforcement are needed to make it as culturally unacceptable as drink driving.
“The Government must clarify the law on using hand-held mobile devices while driving and close loopholes which treat sending or receiving data differently.
“The current law also provides a dangerous false impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit – it is not. All phone use behind the wheel is dangerous, and we need the law to reflect this by banning the use of hands-free devices.
“We echo MPs’ call for the Government to work with the police to boost enforcement and ensure there is a true deterrent to the menace of mobile phone use behind the wheel.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, inews