What is the law in relation to using a mobile phone whilst driving?

Increased use of mobile phones and telecommunications devices

Over the last ten years or so the use of mobile phones in the United Kingdom has increased dramatically. So much so that it is commonplace for every single person over a certain age to not only own a mobile phone but depend upon it for so many things.

The use of mobile phones may have improved certain things in society in a great way but there has been one area of society where the use of them has changed things for the worse.

That area is driving.

What did the law say when mobile phones first became commonplace in the UK?

When the use of mobile phones first became commonplace in the UK there was no law prohibiting the use of them whilst driving. The only way in which an individual could be found to be doing anything wrong if using one whilst driving was if they were charged with failing to keep control of their car whilst using it.

However, this was all to change following 1 December 2003.

What is the law now?

Since 1 December 2003 it is now illegal to drive whilst using a handheld communications device.

What is the potential penalty if I am caught using one whilst driving?

When the law first came into place the penalty for using a mobile phone whilst driving was set at a £30 penalty notice.

However, this was seen as not enough deterrent as many people still continued to use a mobile phone whilst driving despite clearly knowing that the law had changed.

However, the penalty has since been increased in 2007 meaning that if an individual is caught using a mobile phone whilst driving they will be liable for a £60 rising to £1000 if the case is taken to court and will also be handed 3 penalty points to their driving licence.

What is meant by a hand held communications device?

A hand held communications device is something that must at some point be held in the hand of an individual while they are making or receiving a voice call or another form of communication.

This can therefore include a mobile phone but also a handheld PDA which can be used to download emails, text messages and picture messages.

This effectively means that any hand held device that has a communication function should be avoided whilst driving if an individual wishes to stay within the law.

I thought the law only applied to talking on the phone or will I be in breach of the law by texting whilst I am driving?

It is a common misconception made by many people that the law simply prohibits individuals from talking on their mobile phone and that if they are texting whilst they are driving that this is OK. This, however, is not OK as the law simply states that you are prohibited from using a hand held communication device while driving. This therefore clearly can be extended to an individual who is using their mobile to send or receive a text message while driving.

Am I able to talk on my phone using a hands free kit whilst driving?

Talking on a hands free kit is deemed to be within the law as the individual is allowed to push buttons but they are not allowed to actually hold the phone. This means that the phone should be kept in a cradle which is attached to the dashboard of the car. If an individual is using a hands free but is still holding the phone to press buttons then they will be in contravention of the law.

Can I still be stopped for driving in a careless manner?

If the police believe an individual to have been driving in a careless manner and they subsequently discover that the individual was using a hands free mobile phone then that individual can still be prosecuted for not having proper control of their vehicle.

Will I face a penalty if this happens?

If this happens an individual will be liable to the same penalty as they would be if they were caught driving whilst using a hand held communications device, that being a £60 fine and 3 penalty points on their licence.

If I have been found to be in accident can my mobile phone records be used against me?

If an individual is part of an accident their mobile phone records can be used against them as evidence to show that they were in fact distracted at the time of the accident.

What would happen if this were to be the case?

If this were to be the case this could lead to more points on the licence of that individual, higher fines and in the most serious of cases a prison sentence.

Are there any exemptions in place?

If an individual is in a genuine emergency situation and it would be unsafe for them to stop there is an exemption in place which allows them to use their mobile phone to call the emergency services whilst driving.

This is however, the only exemption available for using a communication device whilst driving in England and Wales.