Use of hand free mobile phones

MQT on 2019-09-12
Session date: 
September 12, 2019
Question By: 
Caroline Pidgeon
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


How concerned are you about the use of hand free mobile phones in vehicles on London’s streets?


Use of hand free mobile phones

Use of hand free mobile phones

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Chair.  Thanks for the question.  My Vision Zero approach means that TfL and I are exploring all opportunities to minimise danger for people using the capital’s streets.  I am concerned about the potential for any distraction for motorists, especially if it may impair their ability to drive safely, which can put them and other road users at risk.


The law currently only prohibits using a handheld mobile phone or other device while driving.  A hands-free device can be used lawfully.  However, we must be aware that this does not mean there is no potential for distraction from hands-free mobile phone use.  There is some evidence to suggest that holding a conversation on a mobile phone, even if it is hands-free, can distract and impair a driver’s ability to react.  For this reason the MPS and the City of London Police enforce against any driving behaviour that is deemed to be dangerous or careless, including if this is a result of using a hands-free mobile phone.


A police officer has to use judgement in determining whether an instance of interacting with a mobile phone is considered to be careless.  While it is not possible to isolate offences caused by hands-free mobile phone use, in 2017/18 the police made 2,259 traffic offence reports, fixed penalty notices or arrests for driving without due care and attention.  This is in addition to a further 10,778 for handheld phone use.


The recent Transport Select Committee inquiry into driving while using a mobile phone recommended that the Government should explore options for extending the ban on driving while using handheld devices to include hands-free devices.  I support the recommendation that the Government should look into this issue further and it is my view that this should include drivers’ use of cradled hands-free mobile phones for use other than telephone calls.  I will ask the TfL officials to make themselves available to support this work.


There are practical challenges to the enforcement of a law that includes hands-free mobile phone use.  These should be explored and discussed at a national level through appropriate consultation.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  Thank you for your answer.  I welcome the recent Transport Select Committee’s report on the use of mobile phones and, as you say, calling for tougher restrictions on drivers using mobile phones, including looking at the case for extending the ban to hands-free devices.


My questions today relate to the private hire and taxi industry.  Over two years ago I asked you about this and you stated that TfL is exploring the available technology that could limit the use of electronic devices and mobile phones while driving a vehicle that is moving.  I am wondering.  What is the outcome of that work?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Can I just put on record, Chair, that this Assembly Member has been assiduous on this issue?  She raised it most recently earlier this year as well.  I am happy for them to brief the Assembly Member in relation to the progress made.  There has been some work taking place.  It is cutting-edge stuff.  I am happy for her to be briefed personally about the work they have done.  We are not quite ready to roll it out.  We have to work with the police in relation to enforcement.  There are challenges in relation to enforcement, but I am more than happy for her to be briefed in relation to this.  We are not quite ready to use that.  The issue is about a driver being distracted by the various devices on his or her screen, leading to driving without due care and attention.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  It is a serious safety issue and it fits in with your Vision Zero.  What I really want to understand is what you are doing to ensure there are some limiters in place so that no driver can interact with a mobile phone while they are driving?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  The blocking technology is not there to be used yet and so the concern is that, while driving, you are touching and playing with the device on the screen.  That is what we discussed at the previous exchange.  TfL will look into what steps could be taken to use technology to, in inverted commas, ‘jam’ these devices.  They are not there yet and there are concerns about use but, again, I am very happy for her to be reassured by the briefing in relation to the work we are doing.  We have not fallen asleep on the job.  We do take it seriously, but it is difficult stuff.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  Thank you.  I will take your offer up on that briefing.  PHV drivers are under immense pressure to read and to immediately respond to booking requests being sent to them while they are driving other passengers.  TfL’s latest statistics show that there is a large number of people slightly injured using minicabs and taxis every year but the date is not broken down by company or by type of vehicle.


I am wondering whether breaking down this data would help TfL in making a decision perhaps on whether a company should have its licence renewed or who is a fit and proper operator.  I am wondering whether you would ask TfL to provide greater detail in these statistics and to perhaps use that as part of the licensing process?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the challenges is that the data comes to TfL from the police.  You will be aware - I am speaking directly to the Assembly Member - of the progress made sometimes by these questions.  The police can now disentangle black taxi cabs and PHVs.  That is progress.  You will remember when we first spoke, however many years ago, that was not happening.


I have to be honest, Chair.  What I do not want to do is, without seeing the evidence, add additional bureaucracy on police officers who are making these stops.  The key thing is to make sure somebody who is driving without due care and attention is properly penalised.


The question is what more data could they get from the individual driver, individual operator, etc.  I am not sure about that.  I can look into this.  The other point is that there are some drivers who drive for more than one operator.  I can foresee just talking to you some challenges.


I am happy to take it away and see how realistic it is, but what I do not want to do is to put additional, in inverted commas, ‘red tape’ on police officers who are dealing with the real mischief, which is driving without due care and attention.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  I appreciate that, but if there is a way to capture that data --


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I get that.  I understand.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  -- then it might point to a particular company and that there needs to be a focus on safety and driver training.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Also, there are perverse incentives.  That is why it is useful as well.  Some operators maybe have a perverse incentive to respond quickly, which can lead to ‑‑ I get the point.  I will look into it to see what we can do.


Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM:  I really welcome that.  There was a [The] Times article a few weeks ago.  It described a reporter going undercover as a driver for Uber and described the constant phone beeping as they were driving passengers.  There is a real worry that that could add to danger on our streets and I would appreciate some action on that.  Thank you.


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Assembly Member.