All hand-held usage of a mobile phone while driving is illegal. This includes:
- Scrolling through music playlists
- Playing games
- Taking photos and videos
- Sending texts and making calls
But you can use your phone to make a contactless payment at a drive-through restaurant or toll road.
We answer some common questions on mobile phones and driving with the help of South Wales Police.
Can I use a hands-free device in my car?
Yes - you can use hands-free kits in your car. But if you're using your hands-free device and the police find you’re not in control of your vehicle you could be charged with an offence.
In 2019, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee said that hands-free devices carried the same risk of an accident as using a phone at the wheel.
In fact, your reaction times when using a hands-free device are 30% slower than your reaction times at the drink-drive limit, Brake says.
Because of this, the committee urged the government to extend the ban on mobile phones to include hands-free devices.
Rob Gwynne-Thomas of the South Wales Police Road Policing Unit responds:
“The whole essence of the legislation is that while you’re driving you should be concentrating on the road."
“Any actions that cause you to be distracted while driving are potentially dangerous and should be avoided.”
A government announcement in 2021 said that drivers can still use ‘hands-free’ devices if your phone is secured in a cradle.
What's the penalty for using my phone while driving?
You'll get 6 points on your licence. You'll also get a £200 fine.
If you're taken to court, you face a fine of up to £1,000 and could be disqualified from driving.
If you’re a new driver who’s passed your test within the last 2 years, you automatically lose your licence.
If you get a CU80 conviction (use of a hand held device while driving) your insurance costs could reach £993* a year on average.
Can I use my phone as a sat nav while driving?
Yes you can use your phone as a sat nav. But if you need to make any adjustments to the route or touch your phone, you should pull over wherever it's safe and legal to do so.
Officer Rob Gwynne-Thomas says:
“Set the sat nav before you start your journey. If you want to change details or make any adjustments then find a safe place to stop first.”
Touching your phone for any reason while you're driving counts as 'using' it which is against the law.
He goes on to say:
“Any physical interaction with it will be ‘using it’. Officers will also consider the alternative offences of not having proper control over a vehicle and driving without due care and consideration.”
Can I use my phone to play music while I'm driving?
Yes, you can use your phone to play music when you're driving. But you can't touch your phone to skip or change your songs. This would count as ‘using’ your phone.
You're allowed to connect your phone to the Bluetooth if your car has it. But you should do it before you start driving.
Once it's connected you can skip music with the controls on your car if it has this function. You can also use your phone's voice assistant to change the music.
Can I use my phone in the car if it's not moving but the engine is running?
No - you can't use your phone if your car is stationary and the engine is running, for example at a red light.
You can't use it if you’re parked safely with the engine running either - unless you’re making a contactless payment at a drive-through restaurant or toll road.
But if you need to use your phone for anything else you should pull over safely and turn off your engine.
The law states that:
"No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a road while using a handheld mobile phone or a handheld device of any kind specified by the act."
Officer Gwynne-Thomas says:
“The key aspect here is the word ‘drive’. The terms ‘drive’ and ‘driving’ appear on numerous occasions in road traffic legislation. However, when someone is or isn’t ‘driving’ a motor vehicle isn’t clearly defined.
“There's a large volume of case law relating to this particular subject. The police will consider whether you have control of the steering and propulsion of the vehicle when making initial decisions.”
Can I use my phone if I'm teaching someone to drive?
No. If you're caught on your phone while you're supervising a learner, you could be fined £200 and get 6 penalty points on your licence.
If you're supervising a learner you should always put your phone away and be free from distraction while they're driving.
Driving instructors might use their phones or tablets to show visual aids to learners. If they're doing this, they should be parked in a safe space with the engine off.
Can I use my phone if I’m in the driver's seat but the engine is switched off?
Yes. If you're safely pulled over and the car's engine is off then you can use your phone.
Officer Gwynne-Thomas says:
“There has to be a degree of common sense applied to the legislation. If you’re pulled over at the side of the road in a safe location with the engine off then yes, of course it’s fine.
“The whole essence of the legislation is to ensure that while you’re ‘driving’ a vehicle you’re concentrating on the road.”
Is it illegal to use Siri or some other assistant app when driving?
Officer Gwynne-Thomas says that if you need to pick up the device and physically interact with it then yes, it's illegal.
He goes on to say:
“If you can access it purely by voice commands then no. However, always be mindful that you should always be in proper control of your vehicle.
“If you’re distracted by interacting with Siri then you could be committing other offences such as driving without due care and attention.
“Common sense and the circumstances will dictate this.”
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*Confused.com data. July 2022-June 2023.