London (CNSNews.com) - Britain is considering banning the use of handheld cell phones by motorists, the U.K. Department of Transport said Tuesday.
Car drivers would be given a fine of about $45 for using a phone while driving, but could be charged up to $1,500 if a case goes to court. Truck and bus drivers would face fines of nearly $4,000 if the government passes legislation against driving-while-talking. Hands-free communication would be exempted under the current proposals, however.
Under the plan, motorists wouldn't be allowed to use phones even when at a stoplight or stuck in a traffic jam and even brief conversations to tell callers to hold wouldn't be allowed.
"We know that driving a vehicle while using a handheld phone is dangerous," said Road Safety Minister David Jamieson. "There is still a core of motorists who are ignoring these warnings."
The Department of Transport will hold a consultation period for three months before proposing any legislation, which would then need approval by Parliament.
Studies carried out by the U.K. Transport Research Laboratory have found that slightly more than 2 percent of British motorists drive and talk on the phone at the same time and that using a phone while driving is 30 percent more dangerous than driving drunk.
A 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that talking on a phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an accident.
Road safety campaigners argued that any British ban should be extended to hands-free sets. Janice Cave, a spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RSPA), said that her organization would like to see hands-free phones included in any ban. The government's proposals noted that a ban on using hands-free kits would be difficult to enforce.
"Once can understand why they might say that, but if a law existed that would serve as a deterrent," Cave said.
The RSPA says studies show that hands-free phones increase the risk of an accident.
"It's very dangerous to be using a mobile phone, hands-free or not," Cave said.
Motorists' groups, on the other hand, said specific laws against mobile phones are unnecessary and current legislation against reckless driving is sufficient.
"Drivers can already be prosecuted for using mobiles while driving under three different laws: not being in a position to have proper control of a vehicle: driving without due care and attention; and dangerous driving," said Bert Morris, public policy manager of the Automobile Association.
"There are many other in-car distractions which can be just as dangerous as talking on the phone," Morris said. "We cannot have a law banning the use of mobiles without one to ban eating, smoking, drinking, applying make-up or shaving."
The Road Haulage Association, a group representing the British trucking industry, expressed concern about a proposed provision to fine business owners if their employees are caught under the new laws.
"In so many ways, mobile phones are vital to the industry," said spokeswoman Kate Gibbs. "We see the obvious safety benefits of the proposals ... but what we don't think is fair is when an employer gets (fined) for the actions of an employee on the job."
Gibbs said cell phones have largely supplanted the use of CB radios in the British trucking industry and that most companies have instructed drivers not to use their phones while driving.
Both the AA and the RHA said they would be making submissions to the British government during the three-month consultation period.
In June, New York became the first U.S. state to pass a law banning drivers from using handheld phones.
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