Tougher restrictions on drivers using mobile phones, including extending the ban to hands-free devices, should be considered, MPs have said.
The transport select committee said using any type of mobile phone while driving had potentially catastrophic consequences. The MPs called for more severe penalties “commensurate with the risks”, as road deaths linked to phone use have risen steadily over the past decade.
In 2017, there were 773 casualties on Britain’s roads, including 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries, in crashes in which the driver was using a mobile phone.
But rates of enforcement had dropped by more than two-thirds since 2011, the committee said, as it called on the government to work with police to make better use of technology and deter offenders.
Although penalties for using a handheld mobile phone while driving were doubled in 2017 – to six points on a licence and a £200 fine – the committee said they should be reviewed and potentially increased.
Given evidence that phone use diminished driving ability as much as drink-driving, the committee said the government should explore whether to extend the ban to hands-free calls. Although it acknowledged there would be practical challenges, it recommended that the government launch a public consultation on criminalising the use of hands-free devices by drivers.
The committee chair, Lilian Greenwood MP, said far too many drivers continued to break the law by using handheld mobile phones, despite the risks. She said: “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.”
She added: “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.”
Motoring organisations the RAC and the AA backed calls for a review and said enforcement was a crucial factor. Edmund King, the AA president, said: “Offenders think the chance of being caught is minimal. Following a reduction of specialist traffic officers by a third, a good deterrent would be to have more cops in cars targeting those tempted to pick up the phone.”