New rules outlaw hand-held mobile use while driving

The government's ban on driving while holding a phone has now come into effect, with offenders facing a minimum £30 fine

Motorists caught using a mobile phone while driving will be on the wrong side of the law from Monday, with the government ban finally coming into effect at midnight.

Those caught with their handsets glued to their ears when they should have their hands stuck to the wheel can expect an instant fine starting at £30, although police in England have said they intend to be gentle with the mobile miscreants -- at least for the next couple of months -- until drivers get used to the changes in the law.

While the fine for breaking the ban can rise to as much as £1,000 if a driver is taken to court over the offence and loses, the government is planning to raise the minimum penalty to a £60 fine and three penalty points in the future.

David Jamieson, road safety minister, said in a statement that he hoped the ban would cut road traffic accidents: "You are four times more likely to be involved in an accident when using a mobile phone and driving -- and this new offence will help make our roads safer...Today's new offence applies to hand-held mobiles -- but using any type of phone while driving increases the risk of having an accident. Remember the police can use other powers to prosecute a driver if they are distracted by a call on a handsfree phone."

The Highways Agency has been spreading the message via the electronic signs that line motorways and trunk roads across England since last week, with two messages, "Think don't phone while driving," and "Don't phone while driving", to remind drivers to leave their mobiles alone while they're on the road.

Drivers will also be banned from texting or talking while stuck in traffic. Motorists will, however, still be able to use their mobiles to call 999.

While using your phone with a handsfree kit is still allowed under the new law, drivers associations and mobile operators are saying there's only one safe way to use a mobile in the car -- not at all.

Many companies who rely on a mobile workforce have already started to roll out hands-free technology but some are lagging behind, meaning their employees could be breaking the law.

Anthony McKay, MD of Telephonetics, which makes voice-activated mobile phone technology, said: "Companies should be doing whatever they realistically can to look after their employees. Anybody with a salesforce out on the road, for example, should be doing all they can to ensure their staff comply with this legislation."

Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon contributed to this report.