Plans to ban drivers from using hand-held mobile phones in any circumstance while behind the wheel have been announced by the UK Government.

The Department for Transport says that while it is already a criminal offence to use a hand-held phone for calls or texting while driving, the law does not specifically cover other actions such as taking photos.

It says this means drivers have avoided punishment due to a legal loophole where these actions are not seen as ‘interactive communication’.

Now, a consultation has been launched on widening the scope of the law, bringing in actions such as taking photos, playing games or scrolling through a playlist while behind the wheel.

There will however be an exemption for contactless payments, when the vehicle is stationary and goods or services, such as a takeaway meal, are delivered immediately.

Ministers are also said to have rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions while driving, so drivers will still be able to use a phone in a cradle as a sat-nav, for instance.

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.

“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances – it’s distracting and dangerous and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.

“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”

AA president Edmund King has also welcomed the proposals.

He said: “There’s no excuse for picking up a mobile phone when driving so we’re pleased this loophole will be closed. 

“Phones do so much more than calls and texts, so it’s only right that the law is changed to keep pace with technology. Tweets, TikTok and Instagram snaps can all wait until you park up.

“These new rules will clarify the law and help drivers realise that this dangerous act can have the same consequences and be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. If you cannot resist the temptation to pick up your phone, then you should convert your glovebox into a phone box.”

Road safety charity Brake also welcomed the proposals – however, it also urged the government to go further and include hands-free phone use in the ban.

Director of campaigns Joshua Harris said: “We welcome the government’s move to improve the law on mobile phone use behind the wheel, ensuring that drivers who are caught taking photos or playing games when driving can be appropriately punished.

“When amending the law on phone use when driving, the government must also take the opportunity to prohibit the use of hands-free devices. 

“The current law gives the impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit when the evidence is clear that it is not. Banning hands-free devices may be challenging but we urge the Government to prioritise the lives of road users and take action now.”