A loophole which allowed drivers to escape punishment for taking a photo or playing a game on their phone will be closed under new government legislation.
The Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on updating laws so that phone calls and texting are not the only functions banned when behind the wheel.
An exemption will be made under the plans to allow mobiles to be used for contactless payments if a vehicle is stationary and the goods or services are delivered immediately, such as for a drive-thru takeaway.
Ministers have rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions – drivers will still be able to continue safely using devices “hands-free” while driving, such as a sat-nav secured in a cradle.
Roads minister Baroness Vere said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.
“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances.
“It’s distracting and dangerous, and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”
The change in law would apply across Britain and is expected to come into effect in early 2021, pending the outcome of the consultation.
In 2019 there were 637 casualties on Britain’s roads – including 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries – in crashes where a driver using a mobile was a contributory factor.
The punishment for drivers caught breaking the rules on mobile phone use are six penalty points and a £200 fine.
The University of Leeds was commissioned by the DfT to analyse mobile use by 52 drivers over a total of 765 journeys. Some 662 phone interactions were observed, of which only 38 were completely hands-free.
A car being driven at 30mph travels 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, demonstrating how spending a moment to change a song on a playlist or check an app can result in a crash.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, chief constable Anthony Bangham, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.
“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The closing of this loophole is very welcome and reflects the multitude of ways drivers can use hand-held phones when behind the wheel in 2020.
“We know that the use of hand-held mobile phones at the wheel continues to represent a very real road safety risk, so it’s clear more needs to be done to make this as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.
“It’s important that alongside this change to the law, the Government looks seriously at other options that can help enforce the law, which should include new camera technology that can detect different types of hand-held mobile phone use.”