Mobile Phone Use While Driving

It’s something we see every day, people on their phones while driving. From people holding their phone to their ear having a conversation to people thinking they are subtly able to check Facebook while stopped at the lights. But what are the laws around mobile phone use while driving and why does it matter?

What is the Law?

Quite simply, using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal. However, you may not be aware it is also illegal if you are a passenger supervising a learner driver.

If you are using hands-free then the device must not block your view of the road and you must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times.

The law still applies if you are stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

Laws around driving whilst using a mobile phone were first brought in to force in December 2003, and since 2007 the penalty was three points on your licence and a fine (£60 at first, but £100 from 2013). In March 2017, the penalty doubled – so being caught using a mobile phone while driving carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine! Which means if you have been driving for less than 2 years you will lose your licence!

Following changes on 25 March 2022, motorists are breaking the law if they use a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel for any use.

This includes taking photos or videos, scrolling through music playlists, using streaming services, or playing games – as the government closes a loophole previously exploited by dangerous drivers to escape conviction.

Drivers can also get a further 3 penalty points if they do not have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle if they are using a handheld device.

Can I use a hands-free phone?

Yes you are allowed to use a phone if it is fully hands-free. You are not allowed to pick it up and operate it even momentarily. Hands-free devices should be fully set up before you drive, so you can take calls without touching the device.

It’s important to note that the police still have the power to stop you if they believe you have been distracted by using a mobile phone while driving, even if it’s fully hands-free.

Some road safety groups believe mobile phones should be completely switched off while driving, to avoid any distractions.

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Can I use my phone as a Sat-Nav?

Yes, however, it is not an excuse to say you are simply following the mapping on your hand-held device and that’s why you’ve picked it up. The mobile phone law specifically refers to this, stating it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile to follow a map.

If you wish to use your smartphone navigation, fix the phone to the windscreen or dashboard, so it’s in clear view for use while driving (but not obstructing your view), without requiring you to hold or interact with it.

Can I use my phone to play music in the car?

Yes, but you cannot press a button on your phone while driving, so no skipping tracks unless you are able to do so with your cars inbuilt system. Music streaming apps can be used provided you activate and program them when you are parked. Remember glancing at your phone is very distracting, driving at 30mph your car will travel 100ft in 2.3 seconds. As the Pink Kittens video shows you can miss a lot when distracted.

When can you use a handheld phone in your vehicle?

The law is clear on when you can use a hand-held device behind the wheel. It is only legal if you are safely parked, this does not include waiting in traffic or when sat at the traffic lights!

The law also includes a proviso for emergencies: you are allowed to make 999 or 112 calls on a hand-held device while driving, but only if it is unsafe or impractical to stop.

What if I’m not moving?

Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies when your vehicle is stopped at lights or in a traffic queue. If your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands. This is still the case if the engine stops automatically to save fuel (called ‘start-stop technology).

In the RAC Report on Motoring 2016, a staggering 47% of drivers said they think it’s OK to check social media or text messages while stopped in traffic.

Why were changes made to the law?

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says that increasing the fixed penalties will be a “strong deterrent”. And that’s what is needed.

Figures for 2017 show there were 33 fatal crashes on UK roads where mobile phone use was a factor.

According to the UK Department of Transport’s 2017 Annual Report on Reported Road Casualties, mobile phone use was found to be a contributory factor in 33 fatal crashes, 90 crashes which caused serious injuries, and 308 less serious injuries. Sadly these statistics are not reflective of the truth since many accidents due to mobile use go unreported and many drivers will not admit to using their mobile when an accident occurred.

What are the penalties?

The penalty for being caught using a hand-held device is a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200, and six penalty points on your licence. 

Drivers can get a further 3 penalty points if they do not have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle if they are using a handheld device. Offenders can also be taken to court where they can be banned from driving and receive a maximum fine of £1,000.

As of March 2022, mobile phone awareness courses are no longer offered.

What can be done?

The reality is we need to take more responsibility as drivers. Also, if we know a friend or loved one is driving do not call or text.

There are some excellent campaigns which are aimed to stop people using their phone while driving.

Road Respect did a ‘Last Text Tour’ which was an installation in town centres featuring six mobile phones, each showing a message sent by people who died as result of texting and driving. A plaque on the back of each phone explains how each driver crashed, who they were texting and why they were doing so. This formed part of their ‘No Look, No Touch, No Phone’ campaign.

The RAC has a ‘Be Phone Smart’ campaign running which is encouraging people to make a promise to never use a handheld device while driving or stopped in traffic.

The road safety charity Brake have a Phone Smart campaign, which is pushing for a ban on using hands-free phones at the wheel. #BePhoneSmart

And most people will have seen the numerous Think! campaigns.

For more information on the dangers of using your phone while driving see:

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