Many people are unclear about what you can and can’t do with their mobile phone while at the wheel. Yet the law is actually very clear – it is illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving. And that also applies to front seat passengers who are supervising a learner diver. If you want to use your phone’s sat nav app, your device must be securely fixed to the windscreen or dashboard, without obscuring your view. And you must input your route before you drive off – because the law prohibits any physical interaction with your device whilst driving, even if you’re stopped at a red light.
The same rule about not touching your device applies when using your phone to play music, or for any other purpose that would require physical contact. And contrary to what many drivers believe, you’re not allowed to check your texts or social media while stopped in traffic, even if your car is equipped with stop-start technology and the engine is off. The only time the law permits you to use a hand-held phone behind the wheel is if you’re safely parked, or if you need to call the emergency services and it’s not safe to stop.
If you have to physically touch your phone to make or pick up a call, then you’re breaking the law. Voice-operated hands-free kits that allow you to use your phone without direct contact aren’t strictly illegal, but here’s the tricky bit – any actions that distract you from driving are potentially dangerous, and could be considered illegal if you are deemed not to be in full control of your vehicle.
An enquiry by the House of Commons Transport Committee concluded that driving while using a mobile phone – even via a hands-free kit – significantly impairs motorists’ ability to drive safely and increases the risk of a collision. As the report clearly states, in 2017 there were 773 casualties in road traffic collisions where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor in the crash.
The law prohibiting the use of hand-held phones while driving came into force in 2003, and in 2017 the punishment for breaking the law was increased to a £200 fine plus six penalty points. If the matter is taken to a Magistrates’ Court, the judge has the power to impose a driving ban and/or a maximum fine of up to £1,000. For drivers of heavy goods vehicles and buses, the maximum fine is £2,500.
However, if the use of a mobile phone at the wheel is deemed a contributory factor in an accident, then the driver could face far more serious charges, such as driving without due care and attention, dangerous driving, or in the worst case scenario, causing death by careless or dangerous driving – which frequently carries a lengthy prison sentence.