It will become illegal for anyone to pick up and use their mobile phone while driving, under new legislation to be enacted next year.
The change will end a loophole that can allow drivers to escape punishment for using a hand-held phone to take a photo or play a game.
Mobiles will still be able to be used to pay for a drive-through takeaway.
And drivers will still be able to use devices hands-free under the plans, the Department for Transport said.
At present, making phone calls and sending text messages are banned while driving.
Ministers have rejected calls to also ban the use of hands-free function, for example using a sat-nav in a phone cradle.
Roads minister Baroness Vere said hand-held phone use behind the wheel was “distracting and dangerous” and that “for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment”.media captionRoad Safety: Driving simulator highlights dangers of hands-free
The change in law would apply across the UK and is expected to come into effect early next year, depending on the outcome of the consultation.
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.”
The punishment for drivers caught breaking the rules on hand-held mobile use is six penalty points and a £200 fine.
Phones behind the wheel: the law
- Using a hand-held mobile phone or sat-nav while driving is illegal
- Any hands-free devices should be fully set up before you drive
- Police still have the power to stop you if they think you have been distracted
- The law still applies if you’re stopped in traffic or queuing at lights
- You could get penalty points, a fine and/or a driving ban if you break the law
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.
But drivers have successfully argued that filming or taking photos while driving does not match the wording in the current legislation – which says it is illegal to use a device “which performs an interactive communication” while driving.
In 2019 Ramsey Barreto was found guilty of using his phone to film a crash in north London two years ago. However, the 51-year-old then successfully appealed against the conviction.
The ruling led two High Court judges to criticise the 16-year-old law on using mobile phones, which they said had failed to evolve with the rise of smartphones.
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.”