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Hands-free mobile phone use could be made illegal for drivers

PUBLISHED: 07:05 13 August 2019 | UPDATED: 07:08 13 August 2019

PC Jake Lees issues a fine and penalty points to a driver caught on the phone at the wheel  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

PC Jake Lees issues a fine and penalty points to a driver caught on the phone at the wheel Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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MPs could explore the idea of extending a ban on using hand-held mobile phones while driving to include hands-free devices.

A cross-party committee warned that drivers were being given the "misleading impression" that hands-free use is safer, despite it creating "the same risks of a collision".

The Commons Transport Select Committee acknowledged there would be practical challenges to criminalising hands-free phone use and enforcing the offence but recommended the government should explore options for extending the current ban and publish a public consultation on the issue by the end of 2019.

Mobile phone use is one of Suffolk Constabulary's 'Fatal Four' contributors to collisions in which people are killed or seriously injured (KSIs).

In 2018/19 no road collisions causing death or serious injury were attributed to mobile phone use in Suffolk - down from two the previous year.

Traffic offence reports (TORs) issued for mobile phone use dropped by 9% - from 985 to 896.

In a survey of 1,808 motorists, conducted by the RAC for its 2018 report on motoring, 25% of people admitted making or receiving calls while driving (up from 24% in 2017), and 19% admitted to checking texts, emails, or social media (up from 18% in 2017).

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In 2018/19, Suffolk's road casualty reduction team were responsible for 1,258 total interventions with drivers resulting in a traffic offence report being submitted - 664 for speeding offences, 262 for mobile phone offences and 332 for seatbelt offences. Seventy-seven drink and drug drivers were arrested, with a further 754 being screened for drug and alcohol use.

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 Commons Transport Select Committee said the number of people killed or seriously injured in such accidents has risen steadily since 2011 but the rate of enforcement of the law regarding phone use has fallen by more than two-thirds since the same year.

Since March 2017, motorists caught using a hand-held phone have faced incurring six points on their licence and a £200 fine - up from the previous penalty of three points and £100.

The MPs urged the Government to consider whether penalties should be increased further "to better reflect the serious risks created by drivers committing this offence".

Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, 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."

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