A mooted ban on drivers using mobile phones in hands-free mode in Britain should be extended to Northern Ireland, a road safety campaigner has said.
MPs have claimed the current laws, which only proscribe the use of devices being held by drivers, gives the “misleading impression” that hands-free use is safe despite it creating “the same risks of a collision”.
A report published by the cross-party Commons Transport Select Committee acknowledged 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”.
It recommended that the government should explore options for extending the current ban on hand-held mobiles and publish a public consultation on the issue by the end of 2019.
However, it would only apply to England and Wales.
Pat Martin, chair of Road Safe NI, said: “While I do not believe that using hands-free while driving poses the same risks as using a handheld device, it can still have catastrophic consequences.
In 2017, there were 773 casualties on Britain’s roads – including 43 deaths and 135 serious injuries – in crashes where a driver using a mobile was a contributory factor.
Ms Martin, who was awarded the MBE for services to road safety for more than 50 years, told the News Letter: “You only have to take your eyes off the road for a second for the unthinkable to happen.
“Being distracted by a mobile phone while behind the wheel, even in hands-free mode, is dangerous and puts not only your life at risk, but the lives of pedestrians and other road users.
“If this ban does come into force across the water, I would like to see it being brought over to Northern Ireland as well, as it could ultimately save lives.”
The committee said the number of people killed or seriously injured in such accidents has risen steadily since 2011 but the rate of enforcement of the law regarding phone use has plunged by more than two-thirds since the same year.
Since March 2017, motorists caught using a hand-held phone have faced incurring six points on their licence and a £200 fine – up from the previous penalty of three points and £100.
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, said: “ 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.”