The public prosecutor’s office in Limburg has announced stricter action against mobile phone use behind the wheel. From February 1st, anyone using his mobile phone or other mobile device while driving a motor vehicle will immediately have to hand in his driver’s license for fifteen days, after which a €174 fine will follow. Similar measures have previously come into force in East Flanders and Halle-Vilvoorde.
The public prosecutor’s office made its announcement almost simultaneously with the kick-off of the new campaign the Flemish Traffic Science Foundation (Vlaamse Stichting Verkeerskunde, VSV) ‘Focus on the road, not on your smartphone’. The campaign is also intended to ban cell phone use in traffic.
Distraction is a killer
According to the most recent figures, incorrect use of a mobile phone while driving causes around fifty road deaths and 4 500 injuries every year, Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) explains. In the first half of 2022-2023, more than 37 000 fines were issued for people driving with mobile phones.
Three in ten drivers in Belgium admit to having sent or read a text message while driving. One in five young drivers even makes videos while driving. Distraction at the wheel is only increasing. Not only in the car but also on the bike.
According to the Highway Code, you may only use, hold, or manipulate your phone while driving if it is in a suitable holder. The same applies to other mobile equipment with a screen, such as GPS devices or media players. Using or operating a mobile phone when the device is loose on your lap, on the center console, or on the passenger seat is, therefore, prohibited.
Minister Peeters agrees with the approach of the Limburg public prosecutor’s office. “I support this strict enforcement because no one deserves to die in traffic. That is why we must continue to focus on traffic behavior. We know that distraction is one of the big killers.”
In 2021, the federal government agreed to use smart cameras to catch drivers while using their smartphones, but that plan has been scrapped because of privacy concerns. “A pitty,” according to Werner De Dobbeleer, spokesperson for VSV, because “smart cameras would drastically increase the chance of being caught”. In the Netherlands, smart cameras are allowed: faces are blurred, but those caught red-handed will be fined for smartphone use at the wheel.
A survey shows that 12 percent of motorists between the ages of 18 and 54 in Flanders state that they never use their mobile phone while driving. Almost half of those surveyed say they always put the device out of sight, and almost 70 percent immediately connect it to the car’s application.