Laws On Mobile Phone Use While Driving

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The law on using mobile phones while driving is a very serious subject and the government doesn’t take the issue lightly. Hand-held phones are only legal to use while driving in a couple of circumstances and in most cases your phone must be hands-free, not blocking your view of the road ahead and not seen to be causing a distraction.   

So when can you use a hand-held phone? And what options are there for hands-free devices that comply with the law? Discover all this and how to avoid the penalties in this guide.

When can I use my hand-held phone while driving?

Driving can potentially be dangerous, meaning it requires your full attention at all times. Unfortunately mobile phones are often huge distractions in our daily lives, so it’s important to understand how to use them safely and legally while in the car.

There are only two exceptional circumstances where drivers can use a mobile phone at the wheel legally.

  1. When parked and it’s safe to do so.
  2. If you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe/impractical to stop. 

At all other times you must use a hands-free device or you’ll face hefty penalties if you’re caught using your phone while driving.

What if I’m using it as a sat nav?

phone as sat nav

Holding your phone and using it as a sat nav is not a valid excuse for breaking the law and if caught you may be prosecuted. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use it as a sat nav.

In order to use your phone as a sat nav safely and legally, you must use a phone holder attached to the windscreen or dashboard where it is in clear view while driving and you must refrain from tapping/touching the device.

Remember: you may be penalised if you don’t have a full view of the road, so make sure to sensibly position your phone holder so it doesn’t obstruct your view.

Can I use my phone if the car is stationary?

using phone while driving

While many drivers believe the law only holds while moving, in reality it applies at all times when you’re in the driver’s seat. The only exceptions being when you’re safely parked or phoning 999 or 122.

This means that while you’re waiting at traffic lights or queuing in traffic, it’s still illegal to use your phone when you’re driving. This also applies if you’re supervising a learner driver, so be smart and stay off your phone at all times.

If you’re caught on your phone in one of these scenarios, you may be prosecuted for not having proper control of the vehicle. While this isn’t as severe as using your phone while moving, it still incurs substantial penalties and is best avoided.

Remember: If you’re on your phone and driving, it’s illegal regardless of if you’re moving or not.

Penalties for phone use while driving

police pull car over

The UK government takes mobile phone use while driving very seriously and has updated the law several times since its introduction in 2003. 

Penalties were first introduced in 2007 where drivers got three points on their licence and a £60 fine if they were caught using their phone. However, the fine was increased to £100 in 2013 and then again in 2017 to £200. On top of this the points penalty was doubled to six points too. Since you’re only allowed to receive six points if you’ve been driving for less than two years, this means new drivers will also lose their licence.

Phone use aside, you could face a penalty of three points on your licence if you’re caught because you don’t have a full view of the road ahead (e.g. your phone holder is blocking your view). Or if you don’t have proper control of the vehicle (e.g. you’re using your phone while sitting in traffic).

In the worst-case scenario you could be taken to court for using your phone while behind the wheel, where you could face a fine of up to £1000 and even be banned from driving.

Remember: The extent of these penalties shows that the government doesn’t play ball when it comes to mobile phone misuse. So don’t risk it.

Updates to mobile phone use penalties

For a time there was a loophole in the law that allowed drivers to appeal for lesser penalties due to their phone use not being deemed ‘interactive communication’. However, this will quickly be put to an end by the Department for Transport (DfT), who are expected to update the law later this year. This update means drivers will face the maximum penalty for all offences. 

This means that if you’re caught using a hand-held phone while driving, bar the two exceptions mentioned earlier, you’d face six points on the licence and a £200 fine.

Can I use a hands-free phone while driving?

While the Commons Transport Committee has put forward its case for banning all mobile phone use, the government has no plans to introduce a ban on hands-free devices.

This means so long as you don’t touch your phone and its positioning isn’t obstructing your view of the road, hands-free devices are legal to use.

Here are some legal ways you can make hands-free calls while driving.

Bluetooth headsets

handsfree device

Once the rage of the early 2000s, bluetooth headsets are still a common, comfortable and affordable means of hands-free communication. Headsets are perfect if your car doesn’t support smartphone mirroring, or if you’re not using a mirrorable device. 

Remember: Repetitive and prolonged use of a headset may cause discomfort, choose the hands-free device best suited to your needs.

Infotainment systems

infotainment system calling

Most modern infotainment systems now come with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. This is a great way to use your phone legally, as you can control your phone through the infotainment controls on your steering wheel. 

Some systems even allow voice commands meaning you can listen to and reply to texts as well as answer calls completely hands-free. 

Remember: It’s important to make sure pairing is done before setting off so that you’re not touching your phone while driving.

Hands-free kits

Hands-free kits vary in complexity in regards to both ease of use and installation. If you’re leasing your car you may need to get permission from your finance provider to be able to fit one. Types of hands-free kits include hard wired devices, speakerphones and FM transmitters. 

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated and permanent device then hard wired will be what you’re looking for, whereas speakerphones and FM transmitters are better if you’re on a budget or are after a mobile solution.

Remember: Always check with your finance provider before fitting a hands-free kit.

4 ways to prevent mobile phone distraction while driving

Reducing the number of distractions while driving is paramount for safety and will help you avoid the penalties associated with being caught using it illegally.

So, to help you stay safe and fine-free while you’re out on the road, here are four ways to help prevent your phone distracting you.

1. Stow your phone in a cubby space/glove box

SEAT_Leon_Mk2_glove_compartment

The old saying ‘out of sight out of mind’ is more than relevant here and if you can’t see or easily access your phone, you’re less likely to be bothered and distracted by it. Cubby space, general storage and the glove box are all great places to leave your phone to keep it out of your hands. Just don’t forget to take it with you when you get to your destination!

If your vehicle doesn’t have much free storage space due to size or because it’s prone to clutter, consider bringing a bag or rucksack to put your phone in or free up some space by cleaning your car.

2. Switch your phone off/use ‘do not disturb’ mode while driving

1024px-Logo_No_dot_disturb_driving

Another great way to stop your phone from distracting you while driving is to either switch it off or use ‘do not disturb’/airplane mode. This stops your phone from vibrating or sounding when you receive a new notification, call or text (in ‘do not disturb’ mode, you may still receive calls from favoured numbers) meaning you’re less likely to be tempted to check it.

If you think you may accidentally leave it behind when you get to your destination, this may be a more sensible option, rather than locking it away.

3. Invest in a hands-free device

As we’ve already discussed, hands-free devices provide a legal way to use your phone while driving, meaning you don’t need to stow it away or turn it off. Depending on your needs kits can vary in cost from a few pounds to hundreds, so you’ll need to work out what’s right for you.

However, you may find hands-free devices themselves a distraction, at which point you should revert to stowing away your phone.

4. Download ‘phone use prevention’ apps

There are a number of great applications on the market that block the phone while driving, preventing calls and texts. These work in a similar fashion to the ‘do not disturb’ and airplane modes, but provide encouragement and guidance as well as sharing any offences, meaning you’re less likely to turn them off.

Looking to upgrade your vehicle to enable you to use smartphone mirroring while driving? Then configure your new lease car now for prices on vehicles from our BVRLA-regulated providers.

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