What are the rules for using your phone in the car? According to a recent study, almost two-thirds of motorists are unaware of the consequences of using their phone while driving.
This general ignorance of motorists highlights the lack of enforcement of updated motoring laws, such as smoking while driving and using your phone at the wheel. Campaigners feel that not enough awareness is being made about the dangers of driving without due care and attention.
The reason for this is simple – people do not judge the risks of an accident. You’ve passed your test, you’ve been driving for years and you know everything about the roads you drive on every day. This attitude creates complacency and an attitude of familiarity that overlooks the fact that driving is, and always has been, highly dangerous.
Fortunately, one thing we do all the time is to make decisions to do things based on the risk of being caught. That’s why, in 2017, the penalty for using your phone while driving doubled.
Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal. If you’re caught using your phone while driving you will receive 6 points on your licence and a fine of up to £200. Depending on the nature of your offence, you could be liable for much more serious penalties.
You can lose your licence if you’ve been driving for less than two years. Drivers are only allowed to clock up six penalty points in their first two years of driving, rather than the normal 12. More experienced motorists can lose their licence if they receive 12 points in a three-year period – so just two mobile phone incidents under the new law.
If you cause an accident by using a mobile while driving, you will incur serious penalties. The government is considering increasing the penalty for causing death by dangerous or careless driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. A two-year driving ban is also obligatory.
You can be convicted with a Dangerous Driving charge for “using a mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment whether as a sat nav, or to compose or read text messages when the driver was avoidably and dangerously distracted by that use; R v Browning (2001) EWCA Crim 1831, R v Payne  EWCA Crim 157.”
If using a phone while driving causes you to drive carelessly, you can be convicted under a CD10 conviction code. You can get this if using a mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment causes you to be avoidably (but not dangerously) distracted, resulting in careless or inconsiderate driving.
Unfortunately, research has revealed that up to now, the police have had the power to offer awareness courses instead of penalties for mobile phone use. And that almost two in three drivers caught under the law chose an awareness course instead of points and a fine.
So, if getting caught don’t cost you any money, only time, it’s no surprise that 40% of motorists admit they check social media in traffic. Indeed, almost 50% of drivers will use their phone for calls while stuck in traffic.
The RAC Report on Motoring says “it is difficult to say to what extent the distractions from hand-held mobile phone use cause accidents, or whether this problem has become more acute, but it is likely that official statistics understate the problem.” After all, who’s going to admit to a crime during a survey?
However, studies from the United States demonstrate a 40% reduction in A&E traffic collision cases after bans on using phones in cars were introduced in several States. So, there seems to be some link between driving distractions and accidents.
It is only legal to use your phone in a vehicle if you are safely parked. This doesn’t include being “parked” in traffic or when sat at the traffic lights. 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).
You shouldn’t pay with contactless mobile apps at drive-thru restaurants to avoid landing yourself in trouble and paying a fine.
It’s also illegal to use a mobile phone in the passenger seat of a car if you are supervising a learner driver. This is because you are responsible for the car when instructing a learner driver.
However, you are allowed to use your phone while driving for emergencies. You are allowed to make 999 or 112 calls while driving, but only if it’s not otherwise safe to stop.
So… if you’re in a high-speed car chase against bad guys, you can call the police for help.
You are allowed to use a phone if it’s 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 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.
It’s 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. But make sure it’s in the right place.
The best way to avoid using your phone in your car is to switch it off, or put it into “drive”/”do not disturb” mode. This means you can’t be distracted by calls, texts or Instagram alerts.
If you have to stay contactable, pair your phone up to Bluetooth, whether an in-ear device or connected directly to your vehicle. More and more cars have Bluetooth connectivity as standard as part of their infotainment packages, so if you have it, use it.
When using your phone to play music, create a playlist before setting off so you don’t have to change tracks you don’t like. Alternatively, give the DJ duties over to your passenger.
If you use your phone as a sat nav, plot your route before setting off, just like a dedicated sat nav device. This means you won’t have to pick up your phone while you’re driving and risk being caught and accused of using your phone.