Everything you need to know about using your phone behind the wheel

The dangers associated with using your phone while driving are well documented but it’s still a problem that continues to create concern.

Stricter mobile phone driving laws

Despite laws becoming stricter, 2017 saw 12,000 drivers prosecuted for using their phone at the wheels and the Department of Transport, suggests that as many as 445,000 people are using their devices while driving. 

Worryingly, it was recently revealed that one in five motorists say they check social media in traffic, while six per cent admit to using their hand-held phone “most or all of the time” while driving.

No one is above the law

In November 2018, footballer David Beckham was spotted by a member of the public using his mobile phone while driving in London’s West End.

The 43-year-old was banned from driving after receiving six points on his licence to add to the six he already had for previous speeding matters.

He was also fined £750, ordered to pay £100 in prosecution costs and a £75 surcharge fee within seven days.

It comes after he was accused of “shirking his responsibility” as a role model when he avoided prosecution on a speeding charge because of a technicality with the help of lawyer ‘Mr Loophole’ back in September 2018.

Using your phone in a car

Here’s everything you need to know about mobile phone driving laws.

Can you use hands-free while driving?

The government states that it’s illegal to hold a mobile phone or sat-nav while driving or riding a motorcycle.

However, there are exceptions when you’re allowed to use a phone if it’s fully hands-free. This means you must have access to the following:

  • A Bluetooth headset
  • Voice command
  • A dashboard holder
  • A windscreen mount
  • Built-in sat-nav

Any hands-free device should be fully set up before you drive, so you can take calls without handling the device.

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.

Can you use sat-nav on your mobile phone while driving?

The law specifically states that it’s illegal to use a hand-held mobile to follow a map.

If you wish to use your phone to navigate, the government says you must ensure that it’s fixed to the windscreen or dashboard, is in clear view for use while driving – but not obstructing your view – and doesn’t require you to hold or interact with it.

Can you pay for food at a drive-thru with your mobile phone?

You might think that because you’re technically not on a road the rules don’t apply for you, but unfortunately the laws state otherwise.

Despite your car being stationary, pulling up to the window at your local McDonald’s or Burger King and paying with your smartphone is enough to see you slapped with a £200 fine and six penalty points if spotted by police.

Can you use a mobile phone if the car is not moving?

The government states that it’s only legal to use a hand-held device behind the wheel is you are safely parked or need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.

This doesn’t include waiting in traffic or when sat at traffic lights.

What are the penalties for using your phone while driving?

Mobile phone driving laws were first enacted in December 2003, and since 2007 the penalty has stood at three points on your licence and a fine of £100.

However, from 1st March 2017, the penalty doubled, meaning that being caught using a mobile phone while driving now carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.

If caught, you will also lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years.

This is because drivers are only allowed to have six penalty points in their first two years of driving.

Closing a loophole

Earlier this year, the Government called for an urgent review of the mobile phone law, when Ramsey Barreto successfully appealed against prosecution for filming the scene of a crash while driving.

At present, UK drivers can only be prosecuted if using a handheld phone for ‘interactive communication’. This includes texting, calling or using the internet for social messaging purposes.

Tightening of current legislation will now see a blanket ban for mobile phone use while driving, making it illegal to use a handheld device for anything – from texting to scrolling through a music playlist or taking videos while behind the wheel.

How does using a mobile phone affect driving performance?

According to the government road safety campaign Think!, drivers who use a mobile phone, whether handheld or hands-free:

  • Are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them
  • Fail to see road signs
  • Fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
  • Are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front
  • React more slowly and take longer to brake
  • Are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic.

How to report people on their phones

Members of the public can report offenders anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

So there you have it, everything you need to know about mobile phone driving laws. Want to find out more about driving laws? Check out our Rules of the Road hub.