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Phones in cars: Too soon to ban hands-free kits?

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There is a growing debate about whether the Government should blanket ban the use of mobile phones in a vehicle – even if they are hands-free. 

In March, the penalty for using a mobile phone behind the wheel increased to six points and a fine, though it is still legal to use hands-free kits, which allow motorists to take calls without actually having to touch their phone. 

Road safety campaigners argue that drivers take their minds off the road and become distracted whenever they are on the phone, even if it is hands-free, and a new Department of Transport (DoT) survey shows half of the public share these fears.  

But, in my view, using a hands-free mobile phone properly, to make or receive a short call, is arguably no greater a distraction than speaking with a passenger.

Equally, drivers already engage in necessary behaviour which is perhaps more dangerous than taking a hands-free call in the proper and legal way, such as checking the blind spot which involves completely looking away from the road ahead.

So long as the autonomy in driving remains with the driver, so does decision-making and discipline while at the wheel.

There will always be distractions when driving, and self-discipline and a sensible approach should always be used. 

Laws are already in place to cover where the standards of drivers using hands-free mobiles drop below an acceptable level.

If talking using a hands-free phone causes a distraction which jeopardises the safety or standard of your driving – or your general control of the vehicle – you may be guilty of dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention. 

Using a hands-free mobile while driving and, consequently, causing a fatal accident could also lead to a conviction for causing death by dangerous driving and anything up to 14 years in prison.

The impact the new penalties for using a mobile while driving remains unclear. If they are proved to be ineffective, there is perhaps a case for revisiting the issue.

But removing mobile phones completely from vehicles now, so soon after the new penalties have been introduced, seems like an unnecessary and arbitrary step. 

By Paul Loughlin motoring law solicitor at Stephensons

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