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05 Aug 2020
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

Mobile phones, driving and the law - FAQs


Person on mobile phone behind the wheel

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

Since 1 March 2017, any driver caught using their mobile phone while driving gets six points on their licence. They’ll also be hit with a £200 fine – double the previous penalty.

Previously, a ‘legal loophole’ meant some drivers escaped prosecution because they used their phones to take photos or videos - not make calls or texts -  while driving.

This loophole has been closed, so the law covers all hand-held usage. If you're caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel, you could face prosecution. 

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

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


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

“Yes, the offence relates to ‘using’ a mobile phone or handheld device (as specified by the act).

“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 your 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.”

Are hands-free/Bluetooth kits okay to use?

While hands-free kits aren't illegal, they can still be risky. In August 2019, the Commons Transport Select Committee said that hands-free devices carry 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," says Rob.

“Any actions that cause you to be distracted while driving are potentially dangerous and should be avoided.”


Driver using phone behind the wheel

Can I use my phone if the car is stationary e.g. 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 your phone through voice commands e.g. 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 like driving without due care and attention.

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

I’ve spotted someone using their mobile phone while driving. Should I report them and what information do I need to submit to the police?

“Please contact your individual forces for guidance on how they deal with such matters. In South Wales Police 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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