mobile phones & driving: a guide to the new rules

mobile phones & driving: a guide to the new rules

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Mobile phones have become a huge part of modern life, so much so that many people feel lost without their device by their side. Using your mobile phone whilst driving is extremely distracting and research shows that you are four times as likely to get into an accident if you do.

Despite the risks, research from the RAC shows that 29% of drivers (equating to almost 11 million people) had admitted to making and receiving calls whilst driving, an increase from 24% in 2019. Young people appear to be among the most prominent phone users, with 18% of 17-24 year olds having admitted to making video calls while at the wheel.

In this article, we will look at the risks and consequences of using a mobile phone at the wheel, as well as laws that are in place, and those that are expected to be implemented in the not too distant future.

What happens if you get caught on your phone while driving in the UK?

In the UK, it is illegal to use a handheld mobile device while you drive; this includes looking at your phone for any reason, from following a map to checking social media. You must only use your phone once you are safely parked, meaning you also cannot check it at traffic lights or stationary in traffic.

If you are caught with your mobile phone, you can expect a fine and points on your license. This can lead to an increase in insurance costs and may potentially leave you out of a job if you are banned from driving as a result of the number of points you have.

How many penalty points do you get for being on the phone?

Under current laws, the penalty for breaking mobile phone driving laws is six points on your license and a fine of £200. The current penalty is double what it was in 2017, as then-Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to introduce higher penalties in order to demonstrate how socially unacceptable it is to use your phone and put other road users in danger.

This is particularly bad for new drivers, as getting caught with a phone within your first two years of driving will mean an immediate ban as new drivers are only allowed to clock up six points within this time period (as opposed to the normal twelve points).

If the police catch you using your phone in a particularly dangerous or egregious way, you could be taken to court where the fine increases to £2000 and there is a real possibility of being disqualified from driving.

Can you get fined if your passenger is on their phone?

No, the rule only applies to drivers, unless you are supervising a learner driver, in which case you as the passenger must not be on your phone. Due to the fact that you will be legally responsible for the car whilst the learner is driving, thereby any laws that would apply to the driver will apply to you as an instructor.

Is touching your phone while driving illegal?

At the moment (October 2021), touching your phone whilst it is fixed to a mount is not illegal. The current law states that holding your mobile is an offence, therefore you could tap your phone screen whilst it’s mounted, but the police can still pull you over if they feel you are driving without due care and attention.

What are the new rules for mobile phones in cars?

The Department of Transport has been consulting with various bodies to broaden the scope of mobile driving laws to include any use of your phone at all while behind the wheel. This means everything from illuminating the screen, checking the time, or checking notifications, to accepting/rejecting a call, dictating voice messages, and taking photos and videos.

This is likely to extend to other devices, such as tablets, electronic notepad and gaming devices. Although there is no exact date set for these rules to come into place, the consultation is closed and they are expected to come into play within the next year.

It is worth noting that there will be exemptions in place so that drivers can use their phones for contactless payments at drive-thru businesses and the like.

Although we like to think we are as careful as possible, the distraction is never worth the risk. Mobile phones are ubiquitous in the modern world, and we must learn and adapt to new rules. With the data proving drivers are misplacing their attention onto their devices, which causes serious accidents, it is more important now than ever for people to obey the laws and keep themselves, and other road users, safe.

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