Use your Mobile Phone while Driving? That'll be 6 points and a £200 fine

It's illegal, even if you're queuing or stopped at a light.

From 1 March 2017, penalties and fines doubled for hand-held mobile phone offences while driving. Get caught using your phone (e.g., talking, typing, holding, glancing at, etc.), and you now face a £200 fine and 6 points on your licence, which remain there for 4 years. While using a hand-held phone has been illegal since 2003, these new higher fines and penalties are meant to deter people from an increasingly common and dangerous practice. We delve into when it's okay to use your hand-held mobile phone, how the rules apply to hands-free phones, penalties & points, and statistics around mobile phone use while driving (e.g., how many motorists take selfies while driving).

Penalties for using a Mobile Phone while Driving

In the eyes of the law, there are different treatments of hand-held vs. hands-free mobile phone use while driving. Generally speaking, using a hand-held phone while you're behind the wheel and the engine is running is a big no no, and comes with the heaviest fines and penalties. Hands-free mobile phone use may be okay if nothing goes wrong, but getting into a crash while using one will probably still result in a (lower) fine and penalty. If the police even think that you are distracted by your hands-free phone they can pull you over. Likely fines and penalties are outlined in the following table.

Applies to...OffenceFinePenalty
Hand-held Mobile PhoneIllegally using a Hand-Held Mobile Phone or Device while Driving£2006 points
Hands-free Mobile PhoneNot exercising proper control of your vehicle£1003 points

If you are caught using your hand-held mobile phone twice, you'll accrue 12 points on your licence, your case could go to court and you could have your licence revoked, plus you may be fined up to £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles could get a fine up to £2,500. New drivers, within two years of passing their test, may have their licence revoked the very first time they are caught. Points accrued for mobile phone offences will stay on your driving licence for four years. While points remain on your licence, your motoring insurance costs will go up and your ability to hire a car may be impacted. More information can be found in our Points on your Driving Licence article.

When can I use my Mobile Phone while Driving?

You can only use a hand-held mobile phone when you have pulled over and are safely parked or you genuinely need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop. Technically speaking, according to Rule 239 of The Highway Code, "safely parked" means that your engine is switched off. In other words, you cannot use your phone when you are driving - this includes being stopped at a traffic light or queuing. If you're on the road and your engine is on, don't pick up or engage with your phone. Additionally, you may not use your hand-held mobile phone while supervising a learner driver (reference Rule 149 of The Highway Code).

When you CAN use a hand-held mobile phoneWhen you CAN'T use a hand-held mobile phone
Safely parked (engine switched off)While Driving, including queuing in traffic
To call 999 or 112 in an emergency and you can't safely stopStopped at a traffic light
Supervising a learner driver

Can I use a Hands-Free Phone while Driving?

Using a hands-free phone while driving is a bit of a grey area. Rule 149 of The Highway Code only advises against using a hands-free phone, due to the possibility of distraction, but doesn't outright ban the practice (whereas the rule explicitly states you may not use a hand-held phone while driving). However, the same rule also states that you "MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times." This means if you have a crash and were using a hands-free phone at the time, the police can prosecute you for the offence. So, in essence, you may be fine using a hands-free mobile phone, but you're advised against it.

Not only does using a hands-free phone slow reaction times behind the wheel but you can be prosecuted in the case of an accident, if you were deemed to not exercise proper control of your vehicle due to phone distraction. In other words, using a hands-free phone can have a major impact on whether or not you're found guilty of careless or dangerous driving.

What about Speaker Phone and Sat Nav?

Using your hand-held phone on speaker phone is not a way around the rule. Using your regular mobile phone on speaker does not count as "hands free," since you would have held the phone to initiate and end the call. Mobile phones and other devices are treated as hand-held if at any point you need to hold the phone in order to make or receive a call, or perform any other functions. If the phone is ever in your hand, it is treated as hand held.

This means using a hand-held phone to check directions or maps on your hand-held phone is also against the law. The only way to use your phone for sat nav is by fixing the phone to your dashboard or windscreen, a technique often employed by minicab drivers.

Fatalities from Mobile Phone use while Driving

Besides the threat of fines and points on your licence, there are real, life-impacting reasons you should keep your phone out of sight and out of mind when you're behind the wheel. Research shows that motorists are four times more likely to be in a crash while using a phone and reaction times are two times slower if you text while driving than if you drink drive. In fact, the Department of Transport statistics show that an attending police officer listed the contributing factor in at least 22 fatal accidents and 75 serious accidents in 2015 to be "Driver using mobile phone." These numbers likely understate the number of crashes caused by mobile phone use; it is very possible that motorists don't admit they crashed because they were illegally using their phone, so it is probable that a number of crashes attributed to other causes, such as "Distraction in Vehicle," were related to mobile phone use as well.

Chart showing the number of fatalities in Great Britain attributed to Drink, Drugs, and Mobile Phones
Number of Fatal Accidents in Great Britain Attributed to Drink, Drugs, and Mobile Phones

How Many Motorists use Mobile Phones Illegally in the Car?

The RAC's Report on Motoring 2016 offers some alarming statistics regarding use of hand-held phones. An unfortunately large percentage of motorists engage with their phones while driving. This practice has been proven to cause driver distraction and increase the risk of crashes. We're not sure which statistic is more alarming - that 26% percent of people have checked messages, 19% have written and sent texts, emails, or social media updates, or that 14% of motorists have used their smartphone to take a photo or video of themselves. Not while sitting in traffic, mind you, but while actively driving.

Chart showing the percent of UK motorists who use mobile phones for calls, texting, checking social media, etc. while driving or stationary
% of Motorists who Illegally use Mobile Phones for Various Tasks

With statistics like these, Think!'s new campaign, "Make the glove compartment the phone compartment," is perhaps right on target.

What is a Hands-Free Mobile Phone?

To those of us who are less tech savvy, setting up a hands-free mobile phone can be confusing. Let’s start with the basics. Using a phone in hands-free mode means that you use your phone without touching it - your hands and eyes stay focused on driving. You control your phone only with your voice and perhaps a button on a Bluetooth headset. Hands-free capable phones (e.g., iPhone and Samsung Galaxy) offer voice control for initiating calls and accepting incoming calls, reading and composing text messages, and getting directions to a destination. Calls can either use the speaker on your phone or use a Bluetooth system that links to your car (if it has that functionality) or a Bluetooth headset.

To enable voice controls on an iPhone, you need to enable Siri and some other functions. Make sure the following are “on”/green:

  • Settings -> Siri (Turn on)
  • Settings -> Siri -> Access When Locked (Allow Access)
  • Settings -> Siri -> Allow “Hey Siri” (Allow)
  • Settings -> Touch IS & Passcode -> Siri (Allow Access)
  • Settings -> Touch IS & Passcode -> Voice Dial (Enable)

Once these steps are complete, lock your phone and test it out. Say out loud, “Hey Siri” and then “Call Home,” for instance. If you don’t have “Home” in your contacts, try someone else. If you’re calling a friend’s mobile, then you say, for instance, “Call John Mobile.” Calls automatically go to speakerphone, or a Bluetooth system if one is set up, so you don’t need your hands at all.

Siri can also be used to check or send text messages, hands free, or to provide hands-free directions while you’re driving. To enable Siri to give you driving directions, make sure she’s set up for it:

  • Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services (Allow)
  • Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services -> Siri & Dictation (Access While Using the App)

Be sure to test out and become familiar with the Siri commands and functionality before trying her when you’re driving. Here is a summary of Siri commands you may need in the car.

ActionInitiate by saying “Hey Siri” and then…
Call home”Call home”
Call someone in your contacts”Call [Oliver]”
Send a text message”Send a text [to Fabiana]”
Check text messages”Read new text messages”
Directions home”Take me home”
Directions to an address in your contacts”Find directions to [Isabel’s house]”
Directions to a place of business/interest”Find directions to Tesco”

And remember, even using a hands-free phone can be distracting while you’re driving.

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