UK government considering hands-free phone ban

Published: 13 August 2019

► Ban on hands-free phone kits is being considered
► Studies show just as much distraction as a normal call
► Road deaths related to phone use continue to rise

According to new reports published today, the UK government is considering a ban on hands-free phone calls in cars, as hands-free kits have been shown to cause near enough the same distraction as a held device. To be clear, that involves hands-free kits, and not something such as using a car’s speakerphone – though we’ll get to that can of worms later… 

Alongside the possible new ban, MPs have called for more severe penalties for handheld phone use. Although it’s been illegal to use a phone at the wheel since 2003, deaths related to phone use have steadily increased. That’s despite a tougher penalty of six points and a £200 fine, introduced in 2017. 

Banning hands-free?

According to the Commons Transport Select Committee, using a hands-free device introduces the ‘the same risks of collision’ as a normal handheld call – and other sources say it’s similar to being on the legal alcohol limit.

However, trying to ban hands-free devices opens a can of worms, not least in terms of enforcement. Technology to detect people using phones is currently in its infancy, and can’t detect whether calls are being made by a passenger or a driver. 

Murkier still is the difference between hands-free calls made from a third-party Bluetooth kit, and those made by a car’s infotainment system. In theory, both cause the same amount of distraction, but how will the hands-free feature be removed from every modern infotainment system – and how will it even be enforced? 

And while phone calls may be distracting, are they the most attention-seeking feature of modern cars anyway? With touchscreens, complex menus and motion sensors now found in more and more car interiors – are hands-free devices really the main source of distraction? Let us know what you think in the comments.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast