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

When the use of mobile phones first became commonplace in the UK there was no law prohibiting the use of them while driving. The only way you could be found to be doing anything wrong was if you were failing to keep control of your car while driving and using a phone.

On 1 December 2003, however, it became an offence to drive or ride a motorcycle while using a handheld communications device. It’s also illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver or rider. The rules apply even if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

Texting and social media

It is a common misconception that the law simply prohibits you from talking on your mobile phone and that if you’re texting, for example, while driving that this is okay. However, the law states that you are prohibited from using a hand held communication device while driving, so this would include sending or reading text messages or any type of social media activity conducted on your phone while driving.

Penalties

When the law first came into force, the penalty for using a mobile phone while driving was a £30 fixed penalty notice. However, this was not seen as a strong enough deterrent as many people still continued to use a mobile phone while driving, despite knowing it was against the law.

Since the law changed in March 2017, you can now get six penalty points on your licence and a fine of £200. If the case goes to court, you could be disqualified from driving or riding and get a maximum fine of £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a fine of up to £2,500.

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 while driving if you wish to stay within the law.

Hands-free phones

Talking on a hands-free kit is deemed to be within the law as you are allowed to push buttons but you are not allowed to actually hold the phone. This means the phone should be kept in a cradle, for example, attached to the dashboard of the car. If you’re using a hands-free phone, but are holding the phone to press buttons you will breaking the law.

If the police believe you’ve been driving in a careless manner and they discover that you were using a hands-free mobile phone, you can still be prosecuted for not having proper control of your vehicle.

The penalties for not being in proper control of a vehicle are £100 fine and three points, or a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,500 if you were driving a bus or a goods vehicle) if it goes to court.

Crashes

If you are responsible for an accident while you’re using the phone, you could be prosecuted for careless driving, dangerous driving or, if someone is killed, for causing death by careless or dangerous driving. Fines can be much higher and you’ll almost certainly go to prison if someone dies. If you’re part of a serious crash, the police may check your phone records to determine if use of a phone contributed to the crash.

Exemptions

  • If you are in a genuine emergency situation and it would be unsafe for you to stop, you are allowed to use your mobile phone to call the emergency services while driving.
  • You can also use it while at the wheel if you are safely parked and the engine turned off.
  • You can use a two-way radio but not any other device that sends or receives data.