The law on using a mobile phone whilst driving changed in March 2022.
The old law
It has been an offence to use a mobile phone whilst driving since 2003. Previously, in order to be convicted of using a mobile phone whilst driving, the Prosecution had to prove that you were using a device for the purpose of interactive communication, such as making or receiving a telephone call, or sending a text message.
The old loopholes
As it was previously necessary to prove that the device was being used for the purpose of interactive communication, it was possible to escape prosecution by showing that you had used the device for some other function.
An example of this was highlighted in the case of DPP v Barreto (Director of Public Prosecutions v Barreto: Admn 31 Jul 2019 – swarb.co.uk) where the driver of a vehicle who filmed a road accident was found not guilty because operating the camera function did not fit with the description of interactive communication.
The new law
Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986 has now been amended, and has expanded the meaning of ‘using’ a mobile phone.
Now, the police are able to prosecute you if you perform any of the following activities whilst using your mobile phone:
- illuminating the screen
- checking the time
- checking notifications
- unlocking the device
- making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet based call
- sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content
- sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video
- utilising camera, video, or sound recording
- drafting any text
- accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
- accessing an app
- accessing the internet
The law still applies even if you are:
- Using the device in flight mode
- Stopped whilst queuing in traffic
- Stopped at traffic lights
- Waiting at a roundabout
- Driving a car which automatically turns the engine off when you’re stopped
- Supervising a learner driver
The only time you can lawfully perform any of functions listed above is when you are safely parked up.
Punishment for using a mobile phone whilst driving
When the law was first brought into force, the penalty for using a mobile phone whilst driving was 3 points and a £100 fine. This sentence doubled on 01 March 2017 to a fixed penalty of 6 points and a minimum £200 fine. The level of the fine increases to up to £1000 or £2500 if you were driving a lorry or a bus if the case is taken to Court. The increase in points now makes it much more of a risk to commit this offence, as just two offences within a 3-year period renders you liable to a 6 month disqualification from driving under the totting up regime, and a new driver could see their driving licence revoked after committing just one offence.
Are there any exceptions to the law against using a mobile phone whilst driving?
There are only three circumstances where you can validly use a mobile phone whilst driving. These are:
- In a genuine emergency
- To make a contactless payment for goods or services that are being provided at the same time (for example at a drive-thru, car park payment or toll road) at a payment terminal provided that your vehicle is not moving.
- As a satnav, but only if the mobile phone is kept securely in a cradle and not held in your hand.
Can I use a mobile telephone whilst on handsfree?
Whilst it would not be lawful to touch your mobile phone to accept or end a call, it is currently lawful to engage in a conversation whilst handsfree.
This means that you can operate your phone via the vehicles voice command function, or a Bluetooth headset provided you do not hold it at any time during its use.
Nevertheless, Rule 149 of the revised highway code states that “Using hands-free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road. It is far safer not to use any telephone or similar device while you are driving or riding – find a safe place to stop first or use the voicemail facility and listen to messages later”. The Highway Code – General rules, techniques and advice for all drivers and riders (103 to 158) – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
I’ve been caught using my mobile phone whilst driving, what should I do?
If you’ve been caught using your mobile phone whilst driving in any of the circumstances outlined above, and have received a fixed penalty offer, and accepting the 6 points would not put you at risk of totting up or licence revocation as a new driver, then the most time saving and cost effective solution would be to simply accept the penalty points and treat the experience as a harsh lesson learned. If accepting the penalty points would potentially jeopardise your ability to drive, then we urge you to contact our specialist mobile phone offence solicitors as soon as possible on 0330 33 22 770 so that we can begin building a case to keep your licence.
Why we do what we do:
At Ashworth motoring law we are dedicated to keeping drivers on the road. We believe that no driver’s licence should be placed in jeopardy due to a lack of legal or technical knowledge. That’s why we’re always striving to deliver relevant, current content to keep you up to date with issues that could affect your freedom to drive.
We know the devastating impact that a disqualification from driving could have on a person’s life, career and family. It’s from that understanding that we fight to save the driving licences of motorists throughout the Country, to ensure that no person is disqualified where a valid defence or judicial discretion is available.