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04 Aug 2021
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

Using a mobile phone while driving – the law and FAQs

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Person on mobile phone behind the wheel

If you’ve ever thought “Can I use my phone if …?” then this is for you.


According to road safety charity Brake, using a phone behind the wheel makes you four times more likely to have a crash.

And your reaction times when using even just a hands-free device are 30% slower than your reaction times at the drink-drive limit.

That’s why the law was changed a few years ago.

Previously, a ‘legal loophole’ meant some drivers escaped prosecution when they used their phones to take photos or videos – rather than make calls or send texts – while driving.

But this loophole has been closed, so the law now covers all hand-held usage.

Since March 2017, if you’re caught using your mobile phone while driving, you’ll get six points on your licence. You’ll also be hit with a £200 fine – double the previous penalty.

If you’re taken to court, you face a fine of up to £1,000 and could be disqualified.

If you’re a new driver who’s passed your test within the last two years, you’ll automatically lose your licence.

Later on, when it comes to renewing your car insurance, you might see a hefty increase in your premiums.

And if you’re involved in an accident while you’re using your phone, you’ll find that your insurance provider might not cover you. So, even putting aside the risk to your own life and the lives of others, it could prove to be expensive for you, too.

In short, don’t use your phone at all while you’re driving.

But there still seems to be a sizeable amount of confusion about what is and isn’t legal. To clear things up a little, we put some questions to Rob Gwynne-Thomas, of the South Wales Police Road Policing Unit.

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Making calls and sending texts while driving are bad. But what about skipping music, declining a call or unlocking my phone if the sat nav has gone to sleep?

“Yes, the offence relates to ‘using’ a mobile phone or handheld device.

“So 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.”

 

What’s the best way to use my sat nav while driving without committing an offence?

“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.”

 

Is it OK to use Bluetooth or a hands-free device?

“While hands-free kits aren't illegal, they can still be risky. In August 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.

“As such, the committee has urged the government to extend the ban on mobile phones to include hands-free devices.

“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.”

 

Can I use my phone if the car is stationary, such as at a red light or in a traffic jam?

“No. 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 a kind specified by the act’.

“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 is 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 in the driver’s seat but the engine is switched off?

“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.

“Again, 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 interact with my phone using Google Assistant or Siri?

“If you need to pick up the device and physically interact with it then yes, it is. 

“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.

“Again, common sense and the circumstances will dictate this.”

 

If I spot someone using their mobile phone while driving, should I report them to the police?

“Please contact individual forces for guidance on how they deal with such matters. In South Wales, we have introduced Operation SNAP.

We welcome the reporting of such instances, especially where it’s supported by dash-cam footage.”

 

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