Virtually all use of mobile phones at the wheel will be banned from next year, with guilty motorists facing six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
Drivers will be banned from activities such as scrolling through playlists on handheld devices as part of a crackdown on road safety. The Highway Code will also be updated to make clear that even casual fiddling on a phone at traffic lights or in a jam is illegal.
The changes, announced by the Department for Transport, will make it easier to prosecute drivers using and holding their phones at the wheel.
Under current laws, drivers are banned from texting or making a call while driving, unless it is hands-free. Under the new rules drivers will not be allowed to take photos or videos, scroll through audio playlists or play games.
Drivers will still be permitted to use their device for satellite navigation, provided it is secured in a cradle. It will also be permissible to swipe the screen to answer a call, as long as the phone does not leave the cradle.
An exemption will allow drivers to make a contactless payment using their phone while stationary, in places such as drive-through takeaways or at tolls.
The law will make the UK one of the toughest countries in the world on phone use at the wheel. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “By making it easier to prosecute people illegally using their phone at the wheel, we are ensuring the law is brought into the 21st century while further protecting all road users.”
The change in the law was welcomed by motoring groups.
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: “By making mobile phone use as socially unacceptable as drink-driving, we are taking big steps to make our roads safer. For years, the AA has campaigned hard and helped educate drivers to the dangers from bad mobile phone use.”
Simon Williams, the RAC’s road safety spokesman, said: “While today’s announcement is clearly good news, it’s absolutely vital that the new law is vigorously enforced otherwise there’s a risk that it won’t deliver the sort of change that will make our roads safer.”