Using a mobile phone while driving. Are you aware of the law?
Proposals to ban hands-free mobile phones
This week a group of MPs have recommended that drivers should be banned from using hands-free mobile phones because current laws give the misleading impression that hand-free phones are safe.
A report by the House of Commons Transport Committee found that there were 773 casualties on UK roads in 2017 where the use of a mobile phone was a contributory factor. The number included 45 deaths and 135 serious injuries. Although this has increased since 2011, the rate of enforcement regarding phone use has fallen by more than two-thirds in the same period.
It has been illegal to use a handheld phone at the wheel since 2003, with those caught facing a fine of £30. In 2007 the penalty for using a mobile phone while driving was upped to a fine of £60 and 3 points on your licence. In 2013 the fine increased to £100 but data gathered by the RAC found that motorists caught using a mobile phone behind the wheel were more likely to be offered the option to attend a driving awareness course than accept the penalty points and fine.
In 2017 the penalty doubled to 6 points and a £200 fine with no option to attend a course.
Despite this, it seems that people are still unclear about the rules of the road when it comes to mobile phones.
What the law says
When driving or riding a motorbike it is illegal to hold a phone or sat nav. You must have hands-free access. This means you need:
- A Bluetooth headset
- Voice control
- A dashboard holder
- A windscreen mount
- A built-in sat nav
You are not allowed to pick up the device or interact with it in any way. This means you can’t reset your GPS. take calls, or respond to messages while you are driving if it means touching the phone or sat nav.
If you want to use your phone as a sat nav while you are driving, then you need to set it up before you start your journey and mount it in a holder on the windscreen or dashboard. The phone must not obstruct your view while driving which follows the Highway Code’s instructions that “windscreens and windows MUST be kept clean and free from obstructions to vision”.
However, the law is fuzzy when it comes to what this means exactly with Greater Manchester Police facing a backlash last year after they tweeted that placing your phone anywhere but the bottom right corner of the windscreen was illegal.
Wherever you choose to place it make sure it doesn’t interfere with your driving controls or obstruct your vision of the road. You also shouldn’t place your device in front of or above an airbag. To ensure you stay safe and legal consider buying a mount that attaches to your car’s air vent.
Even if you mount your phone in a holder so you don’t have to actually handle it you could still be committing an offence by driving without due care and attention, otherwise known as careless driving. This is defined in law as ‘allowing the standard of driving to fall below that of a competent and careful driver’ and covers thing like tailgating, eating or drinking behind the wheel, changing your car’s radio, or even having an argument with someone in the passenger seat. The maximum penalty for driving without due care and attention is 9 points on your licence or a £5,000 fine, or you could be disqualified.
Contrary to what many drivers believe, it is not legal to use your phone when your car is stopped at traffic lights or in a queue. The only time you can use a handheld phone is when you are safely parked with the engine turned off.
There is provision in the law to make emergency calls to 999 or 112 on a hand-held device but only if it’s not safe to stop.
It is legal to use a mobile phone in a vehicle if you are in the passenger seat and the driver is fully licensed. If you are supervising a learner driver from the passenger seat and you are caught using a phone then you could be subject to a £200 fine and 6 penalty points in exactly the same way a driver can. The law applies to both friends and family supervising a learner as well as professional driving instructors.
You can also use a mobile phone in the back seat as long as the driver is either fully licenced or is being supervised by someone in the passenger seat.
All about responsibility
Reaction to the proposed changes to the laws has been mixed.
Kelvin Hardy, who inspects and maintains incinerators all over the country and drives hundreds of miles each day told the BBC, “If the ban happened, I’d have to stop every hour on the motorway.
“For me it’s all about responsibility. You don’t have to take a call. I don’t pick up calls if I’m surrounded by lorries or there’s heavy rain. It’s about not being distracted.”
But Joshua Harris, of road safety charity Brake, said research showed using a hands-free phone “can impair a driver in the same way as a hand-held device and so it makes sense that the law treats these acts equally.
“One moment’s distraction from a phone can cause a lifetime of suffering so our advice to drivers is simple – when you’re driving, make sure your phone is on silent and placed out of sight and out of reach.”
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