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UK drivers face fines for ‘wrong type of hands-free device’

Bluetooth in-car restrictions are 'unworkable'

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Six million UK drivers face fines for using the wrong type of hands-free device.

That's the warning from pressure group the Association of British Drivers (ABD) which is trying to raise awareness about a proposed government ban on in-car mobile phones.

The 6,000-member ABD, which campaigns for better conditions for motorists, is highly critical of government proposals which would prohibit the use of most popular hands-free kits, including some Bluetooth-based technology.

Last August, the Department for Transport (DfT) began a consultation on its proposals. This consultation ended on November 25. The DfT has been "considering responses" since then.

The consultation document highlights the DfT's desire to prohibit any form of mobile technology which might distract drivers and involves them fiddling with buttons instead of keeping their hands on the wheel.

So Bluetooth headsets (hi-tech ear covers) are frowned upon but building Bluetooth technology into the dashboard, and making mobile calls voice controlled, is acceptable.

Fines of up to £1,000 for ignoring the ban are planned, as the UK government contemplates taking a far tougher stance on the issue than the rest of Europe.

At least 14 countries in Europe have already introduced a ban on hand-held mobile use in the car, but only two - Spain & the Republic of Ireland - have banned hands-free kits. The Republic of Ireland is now reviewing its legislation, which has proved difficult to enforce.

The UK's DfT wants to make it an offence to use any hands-free kit, apart from costly installed kits wired into a car's speakers.

But the Association of British Drivers believes that although dashboard Bluetooth technology is significantly more expensive, "there is no evidence to show that these kits are safer than earpieces or headsets".

Also the government's plans create confusion because both Bluetooth headsets and dashboard equipment are marketed as "hands-free devices", it warns.

Hands-free handcuffed

The Government estimates that "approximately 100,000 fixed penalty notices could be issued each year and about 5,000 prosecutions in courts as a result of the creation of a new offence". Opponents of government plans believe this calculation fails to take into account the scale of mobile phone use by UK drivers.

Research commissioned by hand-free kit manufacturer Jabra, and based on telephone interviews with 561 motorists, showed that 43 per cent of the UK's drivers who own a mobile currently admit to using their mobile in the car. That represents around 16 million licensed drivers in the UK. Of these drivers, 51 per cent use some type of hands-free device.

Hands-free kits are already widely used by UK motorists according to new research from Jabra, the mobile arm of the GN Netcom Group. The research shows that the headset or earpiece is the most popular device, used by 19 per cent of all drivers who make mobile calls from the car, compared to just 6 per cent using a fully-installed in-car kit.

Even though motorists welcome the ban on hand-held mobile use by drivers, four in five quizzed during Jabra's survey oppose extending this ban to hands-free systems.

George Tennet, vice president, sales & marketing, Jabra EMEA, said: "Based on our research, we can reasonably estimate that around six million drivers currently use a headset or earpiece device, compared to just over two million using an installed car-kit. We think the new law should concentrate on the eight million drivers who don't use any kind of hands-free device and are most likely to put themselves and others at risk."

The proposed law threatens to ban many types of hands-free devices and will be impossible to enforce, the ABD claims.

ABD Spokesman Nigel Humphries said: "Jabra's research shows the new law will criminalise six million UK motorists who are using the 'wrong type of hands-free kit'. This will achieve nothing but to bring the law into disrepute and lead to widespread non compliance."

It concludes that government plans are "unworkable" and hopes to persuade the government into a 13th hour rethink.

Motoring organisations and mobile phone companies are also campaigning against the ban, which is likely to be considered by parliament later this year. ®

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