Hands-free phone use: the law
Using a handheld mobile phone while behind the wheel of a car is a controversial and incredibly dangerous issue, one which the Prime Minister herself has pledged to make as socially unacceptable as drink-driving
Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal and applies if you are a passenger supervising a learner driver.
Mobile phone driving laws were first enacted in December 2003, and since 2007 the penalty was three points on your licence and a fine (£60 at first, but £100 from 2013).
But from 1 March 2017, the penalty doubled – so being caught using a mobile phone while driving carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.
You can use a phone if it is fully hands-free – you’re not allowed to pick it up and operate it even momentarily.
Any hands-free devices 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. Some road safety groups believe mobile phones should be completely switched off while driving, to avoid any distractions.
Using a phone as a sat-nav: the law
It is no excuse to say you’re simply following the mapping on your hand-held device and that’s why you’ve picked it up. The mobile phone law specifically refers to this, stating it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile to follow a map.
If you wish to use smartphone navigation or a mapping app, fix the phone to the windscreen or dashboard, so it’s in clear view for use while driving (but not obstructing your view), without requiring you to hold or interact with it.
When can you use a phone in your vehicle?
The law is clear on when you can use a hand-held device behind the wheel. It is only legal if you are safely parked – and this does not include waiting in traffic or when sat at the traffic lights.
The law also includes a proviso for emergencies: you can make 999 or 112 calls on a hand-held device while driving, but only if it’s not otherwise safe to stop.
What if I’m not moving?
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies when your vehicle is stopped at lights or in a traffic queue. If your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands. This is still the case if the engine stops automatically to save fuel (called ‘start-stop technology).
In the RAC Report on Motoring 2016, a staggering 47% of drivers said they think it’s OK to check social media or text messages while stopped in traffic.
Using hands-free phone kits is currently legal in the UK, although police still have the right to penalise any hands-free user they think is being distracted and isn’t in control of their vehicle.
The best solution is to not use your phone or put it in the glovebox, Is the risk of having an accident worth the quick look at your phone to check if you have a message?