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Mobile Phones, Driving and the Law

Last updated 11 Nov 2021

Mobile phone laws in the UK have become stricter and stricter but still motorists are ignoring the law and putting themselves and others at risk.  Some motorists persist in using their phones while driving, despite it being illegal to do so since 2003.

Nick Knowles plead guilty in June 2019 to using his mobile while driving – He was caught driving at 85mph in a 70mph zone in a Range Rover and using his phone on 28 January. The presenter received six points on his licence for the offence, which resulted in a driving ban as he already had six points on it. He was fined £666 for speeding and £666 for using his phone, with a victim surcharge of £66 and prosecution costs of £85.

Back in November 2018, footballer David Beckham plead guilty to using a mobile phone while driving his car in London’s West End after being spotted by a member of the public. He was given a six-month driving ban for using his phone behind the wheel. He also received six points on his license, was fined £750, ordered to pay £100 to prosecution costs, and a £75 surcharge fee within seven days.  

New RAC figures show the problem is actually worsening – 25% of drivers admit to illegally making or receiving calls while driving.


Government Closed Legal Loophole

Previously mobile phone laws banned drivers from using their phones for communication purposes. Rules have since been updated to ban drivers from holding their phones for any reason.

The change follows a landmark case in 2019 when a driver overturned a charge for using his mobile phone when driving as he wasn’t using the device for communication reasons but filming a crash instead.

It is also illegal to hold a mobile phone if you are a passenger supervising a learner driver.


What are the penalties for using your phone while driving?

On 1 March 2017 the penalty for using a mobile phone while driving doubled to 6 points and a fine of £200.

If caught, and you passed your driving test in the last two years you will lose your licence. This is because drivers are only allowed to have six penalty points in their first two years of driving. You would have to retake both your theory test and practical test.

In addition to the fixed penalties your case could also go to court and you could be disqualified from driving or riding and get a maximum fine of £1,000.

Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a maximum fine of £2,500.


When does the law apply?

Using a hand-held phone while driving for any purpose is against the law. Just holding the phone could see you charged.

The law still applies to you if you’re:

  • stopped at traffic lights
  • queuing in traffic
  • In the passenger seat supervising a learner driver

There are only 2 situations when you can legally use a hand-held phone:

  • you’re safely parked
  • you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop


Using a hands-free phone

When driving you must have hands-free phone access, such as:

  • a bluetooth headset
  • voice command
  • a dashboard holder or mat
  • a windscreen mount


It’s important to have any hands-free devices setup before driving so you can use the phone without touching it as you drive.

The device must not block your view of the road and traffic ahead – you could get 3 penalty points if you don’t.

Even with a fully hands-free setup the Police can still stop and charge you if they believe you are driving while distracted.


Technology that Detects Drivers Using Their Mobile Phones

Police forces in the UK are rolling out a roadside detection system that can detect drivers using their phones.

If the scanner senses a phone in use in a car, a symbol of a mobile with a line through it then flashes up on a sign as drivers pass.

The system does not  not record plates or issue fines, but data will be shared with police.

The scanner is unable to tell whether a driver or passenger is using a handset, but officials hope the kit will help remind people of the dangers of using phones while driving.

Hampshire and Thames Valley are the first Police forces to launch this new technology; targeting particular hotspots.

PC Liz Johnson, a Roads Safety Officer for the Hampshire’s and Thames Valley’s Joint Operations Roads Policing Unit, said:

“Research shows us that you are four times more likely to crash if you are using a mobile phone whilst driving, and reaction times are around 50% slower than a driver not using a mobile phone.


What can drivers do?

The ‘Be Phone Smart’ campaign suggests when people are driving they think about the following 5 steps to being phone smart:

  1. If you use a handheld phone at the wheel, ask yourself what couldn’t wait until you got out of your vehicle
  2. What are the chances of missing something genuinely important while you’re driving?
  3. Consider the consequences if you got caught using a handheld phone at the wheel – the embarrassment, the hassle, the points, the fact you might even lose your licence, and the impact that would have on your life
  4. Think how you would feel if you were responsible for causing a crash because you let yourself be distracted by your phone
  5. If you know, or think, you’re tempted to use a handheld phone at the wheel, put it away. If it’s out of sight, and silenced, you know you can stay focused on the road ahead

Do your part in keeping roads safe and keep your full attention on the road and not on your phone.


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