Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The risks of using a mobile phone

1.Using a mobile phone or other device while driving impairs a person’s ability to drive safely and makes a road traffic collision more likely. This is true whether a device is hand-held or being used hands-free. It is a tragedy—and one which is entirely avoidable—that 43 people were killed and a further 135 were seriously injured in 2017 in road traffic collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor in the crash. We welcome the Government’s plans to publish an analysis of mobile phone use while driving, in order to help it decide what more needs to be done to tackle this activity. We hope that the evidence we have taken and the recommendations we make in this Report will be useful to the Government as it decides what further action is necessary. (Paragraph 13)

Legislative reform

2.The legislation defining the offence of using of a hand-held mobile phone or other device while driving was drafted in 2003 and excludes activities that are known to create precisely the same risks as those covered by the legislation. There are other offences with which drivers using a mobile phone or other device while driving can—depending on the circumstances—be charged, and the authorities therefore have some discretion about what action to take in relation to an offence being committed. However, the evidence is clear that using a hand-held mobile phone, whether for a communicative purpose or not, is dangerous, and it therefore does not make sense for legislation to distinguish between these things. We recommend that the Government redefine the offence of driving while using a mobile phone or other device so that it covers all hand-held usage, irrespective of whether this involves sending or receiving data. (Paragraph 18)

3.The law currently only proscribes using a hand-held mobile phone or other device while driving. A hands-free device can be used lawfully, creating the misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. The evidence shows that using a hands-free device creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand-held device, and it is therefore inappropriate for the law to condone it by omission. While we accept that there would be practical challenges to criminalising hands-free devices and enforcing this offence, we agree with Dr Gemma Briggs that just because something is difficult this does not mean that we should not do it. We therefore recommend that the Government explore options for extending the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile phone or other device to hands-free devices. This should consider the evidence of the risks involved, the consequences of a ban, and the practicalities of enforcing it. The Government should publish a public consultation along these lines by the end of 2019. (Paragraph 19)

4.Increasing the penalties for driving while using a mobile phone in 2017 appears to have changed behaviour in the short-term, but there is already evidence that bad habits are creeping back in. Higher penalties are clearly not a panacea to the problem of motorists driving while using a mobile phone, but penalties are a good way for the Government to signal the seriousness of an offence. Our evidence indicates that the penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving do not appear to be commensurate with the risk created. We recommend that the Government assess and report on the effectiveness of the 2017 increase in penalties for driving while using a mobile phone. This should review the current penalties that apply to this offence and consider whether they should be increased to better reflect the serious risks created by drivers committing this offence and make clear to offenders that there are serious consequences to being caught. (Paragraph 22)


5.If motorists do not believe there will be consequences from breaking the law then many of them will continue to do so. Enforcing the law is essential to ensuring that motorists do not illegally use their mobile phone while driving. There must be a credible threat of offenders being caught. It is concerning that the number of offences resulting in Fixed Penalty Notices, driver retraining or court action have fallen by more than two thirds since 2011, while the number of people killed or seriously injured in collisions where mobile phone use is a factor in the collision has risen. We have heard that more road traffic officers would be the most effective way of increasing enforcement of road traffic offences. However, local authorities and police forces are under significant financial pressure, and the Government therefore also needs to look at alternative means of enforcement. We welcome the Government’s review of roads policing and traffic enforcement, and recommend that—as part of this review—the Government engage with police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners to explore options for improving the enforcement of this offence. This should include looking at opportunities for making greater use of technology, and how increased enforcement can work alongside public awareness campaigns. (Paragraph 28)

Public awareness

6.If using a mobile phone while driving is to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving, there needs to be a step change in the Government’s approach to public education. If this is to successfully change public behaviour, it is important that the Government educates the public about why using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous, not just that it is against the law. We welcome the Government’s plans to highlight the use of hand-held mobile phones as part of its communications on road safety hazards, and recommend that the Government set out—in response to this Report—a plan for devising and implementing a public education campaign about the risks of using a mobile phone while driving, and the penalties for being caught doing so. This should include an assessment of the groups it is most important to reach—such as those who have a history of committing road traffic offences—and plans for how to engage with them. (Paragraph 34)

Government and public sector drivers

7.As well as setting policy and enacting legislation the Government can lead by example and encourage behaviour change across the public sector and Government supply chain. We recommend that the Government demonstrate its recognition of the risks of using a mobile phone while driving—whether hand-held or hands-free—by producing guidance on the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone and instructing drivers directly in its employ not to use a mobile phone or other device—whether hand-held or hands-free—while driving, and explore the possibility of making this a requirement for the wider public sector and Government contractors. (Paragraph 37)

Published: 13 August 2019