Ban hands-free calls in the car: MPs call for prosecution of drivers who use kits to chat at wheel

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The Commons transport committee warns that current laws give the ¿misleading impression¿ that hands-free use is safe (stock image)


Now they want to ban HANDS-FREE calls in the car: MPs urge prosecution of drivers who use kits to chat at the wheel, saying it’s as harmful as holding a phone

  • MPs from the transport committee are urging Government to look the penalties
  • They say current laws give a ‘misleading impression’ that hands-free use is safe
  • Rebecca Evans, 27, died on M4 in 2016 after crash involving hands-free device
  • Businessman hit back of her stationary car at around 70mph after ending a call

Drivers should be banned from all phone use behind the wheel – including hands-free calls, MPs declare today.

Using technology such as car speakerphones or bluetooth headsets can create the same crash risks as holding a phone, they warn. The Commons transport committee warns that current laws give the ‘misleading impression’ that hands-free use is safe.

Instead, MPs demand that ministers look at extending the current legislation, which only bans use of hand-held phones while driving.

They also want the Government to consider increasing punishments for drivers using mobiles, as well as recruiting more traffic officers or using roadside cameras to catch offenders. 

The Commons transport committee warns that current laws give the ‘misleading impression’ that hands-free use is safe (stock image)

The MPs acknowledge that there would be practical challenges to criminalising hands-free phone use and enforcing the offence, but insisted ‘this does not mean that we should not do it’. 

The radical proposal, which will now be examined by the Department for Transport, is likely to be welcomed by road safety groups, particularly as figures suggest the number of crashes involving mobiles is rising.

However, motoring groups have questioned how banning the use of hands-free technology would affect delivery drivers, who often rely on it, as well as taxi drivers.

During the select committee’s inquiry, Nicholas Lyes, the RAC’s head of roads policy, said: ‘How would companies interact with their staff, particularly if they were doing deliveries, or if they were taxi companies? How would you necessarily enforce it without the technology that could pick up the call that was taking place?’

In 2016, the Daily Mail launched its End The Mobile Madness campaign following a series of deaths caused by reckless drivers who were talking on the phone or texting.

Penalty that doesn’t cover all calls

It has been a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving since 2003.

Motorists can be punished for making phone calls, browsing the internet, or sending text messages with their mobiles in their hands.

The offence is currently subject to a fixed penalty notice of £200 and six penalty points. However, it does not apply if drivers are using their phone in hands-free mode, for example with a bluetooth headset or a speakerphone that is built into the car.

Police have the power to stop and fine a motorist if they believe they have been distracted by using a hands-free mobile and so are not in control of their vehicle.

Using a phone at the wheel can be a contributory factor in other offences subject to much higher penalties, such as causing death by careless or dangerous driving.

The campaign demanded stiffer punishments for drivers caught using a hand-held mobile at the wheel.

The following year, in March 2017, ministers doubled the punishment for using hand-held mobile phones while driving from three penalty points to six – and increased fines from £100 to £200. However, figures show the number of people dying in crashes that involve a driver using a mobile phone has continued to rise. In 2017, there were 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries in collisions where phone use was a contributory factor.

In their report today, the MPs from the transport committee urge the Government to consider whether penalties should be increased further. They also warn that for the law to be effective there must be a credible threat of being caught.

The number of drivers who received a Fixed Penalty Notice, were sent on an awareness course or faced court action fell by more than two-thirds in the six years from 2011. Some experts have blamed this decline on cuts to the number of traffic officers.

Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, chairman of the committee, 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.

‘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. Any use of a phone distracts from a driver’s ability to pay full attention.’

The committee heard from experts that a driver using a phone – hand-held or hands-free – is four times more likely to crash.

Dr Gemma Briggs, a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University, told the MPs that even for around five minutes after a driver has ended a phone conversation, they are still at a significantly increased risk of a crash because they remain distracted.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has said drivers who use a phone, even via hands-free, fail to see road signs, and are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front and take longer to brake. 

Driver on phone just before crash that killed pregnant mother 

A heavily pregnant mother and her unborn daughter were killed when a BMW driver ploughed into her car seconds after ending a hands-free phone call.

Rebecca Evans, 27, a charity worker, was eight months pregnant when she died in the crash on the M4 in 2016.

Her two-year-old son Cian suffered serious injuries including a fractured skull.

She was in the passenger seat of a Peugeot 407 car driven by her partner when businessman Craig Scott hit the back of the stationary car at around 70mph.

Rebecca Evans (pictured), 27, a charity worker, was eight months pregnant when she died in a crash on the M4 in 2016

Ms Evans was in the passenger seat of a Peugeot 407 when businessman Craig Scott (pictured outside court) hit the back of the stationary car at around 70mph

Rebecca Evans (left), 27, a charity worker, was eight months pregnant when she died in a crash on the M4 in 2016. She was in the passenger seat of a Peugeot 407 when businessman Craig Scott (right outside court) hit the back of the stationary car at around 70mph

In a statement read to Swansea Crown Court, Miss Evans’s partner Alex Evans said: ‘I saw this car coming up behind us.

‘I think I said something like “He’s coming up a bit fast. I don’t think he’s slowing down”.’ He described an ‘almighty bang’. He described the aftermath of the crash as chaos as witnesses rushed to help.

Mr Evans said: ‘I saw them pull Becca from the car and I saw the blood on her dress. I knew then that our daughter had gone.

‘I knew that straight away. Not in a million years did I think I would lose Becca. I screamed and cried for them both.’

Cian was flown to hospital where he was found to have bleeding between his brain and skull and a depressed skull fracture. Both his legs were broken.

Scott told police he had been distracted by something on a motorway bridge just before the crash, and ended a hands-free call with work about five minutes before.

But phone data showed the call was actually between 14 and 34 seconds before the tragedy.

Judge Keith Thomas said Scott had taken his eyes off the road for a ‘relatively substantial period of time’.

Last year he was jailed for three years after being found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

The businessman was also disqualified from driving for five years.

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