Road safety experts have labelled the new rules on the use of mobile phones while driving a “missed opportunity” as they do not go far enough.
The Government revealed it will be illegal to use a hand-held device under virtually any circumstance while driving, but hands-free calls will still be permitted and the potential risks around distracted driving from infotainment systems remains unresolved.
Alison Moriarty, fleet risk director at Drive Consulting and former fleet manager, said: “While I welcome any changes that reduce distractions to drivers caused by mobile phone use, the proposal does not go far enough.
“It is proven that the physical effects of holding a device are not as much an impairment to concentration as the mental distraction of holding a conversation and this is the same when using hands-free.
“In fact, you are four times more likely to be involved in a collision, resulting in injury, if you are on a call including using hands-free options.”
Chief scientist for behavioural and data sciences at TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), Shaun Helman, welcomed the legislation being updated, but believes it could be construed as a “bad thing” by retaining the focus on hand-held devices.
“It reinforces the myth that’s the most important thing,” he said.
There are four types of distraction: manual, visual, auditory and cognitive. Helman explained: “What this law still does is focus on just one of those.
“In that sense, it’s a missed opportunity and it’s maintaining this flawed narrative that, as long as you’re not holding something, you’re safe.”
Texting or making a phone call (other than in an emergency) using a hand-held device while driving was already illegal.
The new rules, which will come into force next year, will specifically ban drivers from using their phones to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games.
Anyone caught using their phones will be issued a £200 fine and six points on their licence.
Drivers can still use their mobile phones for satellite navigation and to pay for items at drive-thru restaurants.
Research from IAM RoadSmart showed infotainment systems impair reaction times more than alcohol and cannabis. They found average stopping distances increased to between four and five car lengths when drivers took their eyes off the roads by just 16 seconds.
They warned reaction times slowed by as much as 46 percent when using a handheld phone. These dropped to 57 percent slower when using Apple CarPlay touchscreen tools.