RAF MILDENHALL, England — The British government has outlawed the use of mobile telephones while driving.

The new law, announced Tuesday, takes effect Dec. 1. The offense will carry a fine of 30 British pounds, or about $50. If the case goes to court, the fines can rise to 1,000 pounds, or about $1,700.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents cheered the move, but cautioned that the use of hands-free phones, which are not covered by the law, are equally dangerous and should also be banned.

Roger Vincent, a spokesman for the RoSPA, said his group has been monitoring the role of mobile telephones in automobile accidents for 10 years.

“We know of at least 20 deaths in Great Britain where mobile phones were directly implicated,” he said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. “We think there may have been more than that.”

Under current law, drivers can be prosecuted for not keeping proper control of their car, which could include anything from eating a sandwich or changing the music in a tape player to using a mobile telephone.

But, Vincent said, “We felt the current law was inadequate.”

RoSPA researched the use of mobile phones in other countries, including the United States and Canada, where automatic transmissions in vehicles are more prevalent than in the United Kingdom. Even in those countries, Vincent said, mobile phones caused distractions that led to a higher rate of accidents.

If mobile phones are a problem in vehicles with automatic transmissions, he said, they surely are a danger for people who must make frequent gear changes while driving.

The RoSPA will now work toward a ban on hands-free mobile phone use while driving. Vincent said he fears the mobile phone industry will use the new law to push sales of hands-free units.

“The conversation is the problem,” Vincent said. “The conversation takes precedent over the driving.”

Phone conversations differ from a conversation with a vehicle’s passenger, he said, because a passenger can help spot dangers on the road, and the need to concentrate is less than when talking on a telephone.

The RoSPA said the best thing to do is to turn off a mobile phone while driving.

“If we hear a phone ring, we answer it,” he said, so phones should be turned off until the car is safely parked.

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