The highway code has been updated so that, in some cases, using a smartphone as a GPS could result in a fine.
The current legislation dates back to the pre-smartphone era and refers only to portable phones, stating that these cannot be held while driving. The proposed legislation will update the definition of a ‘phone’.
Speaking to Radio 1 on Tuesday, the minister in charge of the bill Joris Vandenbroucke (Vooruit MP) explained that the old regulation only stated that the driver committed an offence if the device was held in the hand. Now, many more actions will be punishable.
“We have updated the definition in the law so that it no longer applies only to portable phones but any mobile electronic device with a screen. These you cannot use, hold or manipulate while driving.”
The new rules state that using an electronic device with a screen (this includes smartphones but also tablets) as a GPS but keeping it on your lap or on the seat next to you is a violation of the third degree, meaning that you directly endanger someone.
Higher fines, but difficult to implement
Anyone caught in violation of the law is liable to a fine of €174 (increased from €116). The new regulation is expected to be approved by the parliament in January, which would see it enter into force at the beginning of March 2022.
But using a phone as a GPS is still allowed, “provided the device is in a holder intended for that purpose, which has been stuck to the dashboard or windshield or if it used as part of a built-in GPS,” Vandenbroucke explained.
He stressed that every year the use of such devices behind the wheel results in about 50 to 60 deaths and thousands of injuries. It is hoped that by clarifying the rules surrounding their use, road accidents will decrease.
Despite unanimous support for the updated rules, there is currently some opposition from parties when it comes to allowing smart or unmanned cameras to check whether people are using smartphones behind the wheel, as some consider this an infringement of privacy, according to reports from De Standaard.