It is illegal to hold your mobile phone while you are behind the wheel. Full stop.
The change in the law happened in April 2021 after a lengthy consultation by the Government, and means the law reflects changes in the way technology has advanced.
The consultation was begun after a motorist successfully argued in court that he wasn’t using his mobile phone for communication because he was actually filming a crash.
So, after the law change, it is illegal to hold a mobile phone for any reason while you’re driving. This law also applies if you’re a passenger who is looking after a learner driver.
However, the law does allow you to interact with the phone if you have hands-free access, which means you can use a Bluetooth headset or use voice commands. You can also touch the screen as long as the phone is held in a secure mount on the dashboard or windscreen. This means you can also touch the screen to use the phone’s built-in satellite-navigation system, as long as the phone is securely mounted.
The exception here is that any driver can be charged with driving without due care and attention. If you are distracted from your surroundings for long periods by a hands free device, you still run a risk under these rules.
The penalty for using a mobile phone while driving was doubled in 2017 and now guilty drivers stand to receive six driving licence penalty points and a £200 fine.
While the law continues to apply even if you’re stuck in a traffic jam or stopped at traffic lights, the Government has also recognised that mobile phones are commonly used to make contactless payments. As such, the law includes an exemption allowing drivers to pay for goods and services from the driver’s seat – such as a takeaway meal at a drive-through restaurant or a road toll – as long as the vehicle is stationary.
The law says that if your car is ‘safely parked’ then you can use a hand held mobile phone. This means you would need to be stopped at the side of the road or in a designated parking bay with your engine off. Waiting in traffic or at traffic lights does not count.
There is one further case when you can use a mobile phone while driving. You are allowed to call 999 or 112 in an emergency on a hand-held device if there is nowhere safe to stop.
Edmund King, president of the AA, commented: “There is no excuse for picking up a mobile phone when driving.
“Phones do so much more than calls and texts, so it is only right that the law keeps pace with technology. Tweets, TikTok and Instagram snaps can all wait until you park up.
“These rules clarify the law and help drivers realise that this dangerous act can have the same consequences and be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. If you can’t resist the temptation to pick up your phone, then you should convert your glovebox into a phone box.”
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