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Mobile phone driving laws: What is illegal and what are the penalties?

Here's everything you need to know

Sarah Young,Katie O'Malley
Thursday 09 May 2019 15:21 BST
Man convicted after driving the wrong way down the motorway

The dangers associated with using a mobile phone while driving are well documented but, nonetheless, it's a problem that continues to pervade the roads.

Despite mobile phone laws becoming stricter, new research from the Department of Transport suggests that as many as 445,000 people are using their devices while driving,

Similarly, car insurance company RAC recently reported that one in five motorists say they check social media in traffic, while six per cent admit to using their hand-held phone “most or all of the time” while driving.

In November 2018, footballer David Beckham plead guilty to using a mobile phone while driving his car in London’s West End after being spotted by a member of the public.

On Thursday, the 43-year-old was given a six-month driving ban for using his phone behind the wheel. He also received six points on his license, was fined £750, ordered to pay £100 to prosecution costs, and a £75 surcharge fee within seven days.

Here's everything you need to know about using your phone in a car, from what is and isn’t illegal to how you can report offenders.

Can you use hands-free while driving?

The government states that it is illegal to hold a mobile phone or sat-nav while driving or riding a motorcycle.

However, you are allowed to use a phone if it’s fully hands-free. This means you must have access to the following:

  • a Bluetooth headset
  • voice command
  • a dashboard holder
  • a windscreen mount
  • built-in sat-nav

Any hands-free device should be fully set up before you drive, so you can take calls without handling the device.

The police still have the power to stop you if they believe you have been distracted by using a mobile phone while driving, even if it’s fully hands-free.

Can you use sat-nav on your mobile phone while driving?

The law specifically states that it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile to follow a map.

If you wish to use your phone to navigate, the government says you must ensure that it is fixed to the windscreen or dashboard, is in clear view for use while driving – but not obstructing your view – and doesn’t require you to hold or interact with it.

How does using a mobile phone affect driving performance?

According to the government road safety campaign Think!, drivers who use a mobile phone, whether handheld or hands-free:

  • are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them
  • fail to see road signs
  • fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
  • are more likely to ‘tailgate’ the vehicle in front 
  • react more slowly and take longer to brake
  • are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic. 

Can you use a mobile phone if the car is not moving?

The government states that it is only legal to use a hand-held device behind the wheel is you are safely parked or need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop.

This does not include waiting in traffic or when sat at traffic lights.

What are the penalties for using your phone while driving?

Mobile phone driving laws were first enacted in December 2003, and since 2007 the penalty has stood at three points on your licence and a fine of £100.

However, from 1 March 2017, the penalty doubled, meaning that being caught using a mobile phone while driving now carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.

If caught, you will also lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last two years. This is because drivers are only allowed to have six penalty points in their first two years of driving.

How can I stop using my phone while driving?

The RAC says that the easiest way to not be distracted by using your mobile phone in the car is to switch it off.

It recommends treating your car like an aircraft and putting your phone into flight mode before driving.

If you do need to be available, make sure your phone is paired up to Bluetooth, so you can still take calls.

How can I report offenders?

Members of the public can report offenders anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

You can find more information about driving laws in the UK here.

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