Q955: What is the law in relation to using a mobile phone or other hand-held device whilst driving?
There is a substantial body of research showing that using a mobile phone whilst driving, even legally via hands-free, is a considerable distraction and greatly increases the risk of a driver being involved in an accident. This is because of the mental distraction and the driver having to divided their attention between taking part in a phone conversation and driving. Therefore, we would suggest that you don't use a mobile phone/device, even hands-free, whilst driving.
Standard of driving
It's important to realise that even if you aren't contravening the mobile phone legislation, if operating any device whether it's hand-held or not, affects your driving, you can still commit offences such as not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving. This also applies to operating any device in your vehicle e.g. car radio, sat nav etc. Note that if you were involved in an accident and your telephone records showed that you were using your mobile at the time of the incident, even via voice activation, it could have serious legal implications.
Mobile phone/other hand held devices - legislation
The legislation states that it's an offence for a person to drive or supervise the driving by a provisional licence holder, or cause or permit to be driven a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using:
- a hand-held mobile telephone, or
- a hand-held device (other than a two-way radio) which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.
The use of a hand-held phone or a similar hand-held device while driving is against the law. A hand-held device is something that is or must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function. Provided that a phone can be operated without holding it, then hands-free equipment is not prohibited by this legislation. Therefore, the use of a phone as a sat nav is lawful providing you don't have to hold it.
Pushing buttons/touching a phone while it's in a cradle or on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorbike for example is not covered by the above offence, provided you don't hold the phone. Therefore, in our opinion, if the device can allow for hands-free calls, such as when using Apple's Siri voice command system or using a car's compatible systems, it would be legal but inadvisable to use whilst driving. However, we would emphasise that ultimately this would be a matter for a court to decide.
The use of a mobile phone or similar device for texting/internet access etc, while driving is also prohibited if the phone (or other device) has to be held in order to operate it.
The use of devices other than mobile phones is only prohibited under the mobile phone legislation if the device performs an interactive communication function by sending and receiving data and is hand-held - but please see the section on 'Standards of driving'.
Using a mobile phone whilst driving now carries 6 points and a £200 fine.
Can I use my phone as a sat nav
The use of a phone as a sat nav is lawful providing you don't have to hold it at any time. Please see the section on 'Mobile phone/other hand held devices – legislation' for information on touching the screen etc.
Mobile phone - use when parked
Whether someone is driving in terms of the law is a question of fact and degree and is ultimately a matter for a court to decide. If you are sat in the driving seat of a vehicle on a road with the engine running you will usually be deemed to be driving for the purposes of this offence. There have even been cases where people have been found to be driving when they have let the vehicle roll forward without the engine running. In order to ensure you don't break the law in relation to using a phone in a layby /when stationary, we would suggest the following:
- Use a hands free kit
- Sit in the passenger/rear seat
- Ideally, don't use the phone at all
Mobile phone - positioning
The law does not state where your phone cradle must be positioned providing it doesn't obscure your view from the vehicle – if it does you could commit an offence.
Must my phone be in a cradle
If at any point you have to hold your phone/device to use it whilst driving, you will commit an offence. Therefore, it is best to secure it in suitable cradle.
Queuing in traffic
It's illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device if you're stopped in queuing traffic e.g. at traffic lights, hold-ups etc. Whilst there may be situations when drivers are held for hours in a queue of traffic e.g. following a serious accident, the legislation doesn't specifically provide an exemption in such circumstances. Therefore, to ensure you don't commit an offence in relation to using a mobile phone in such a situation, we would suggest using a hands-free kit.
Are there any exemptions for emergencies
Yes, in genuine emergencies where it is unsafe or impractical to stop there is an exemption for calls to 999 or 112.
It is not yet clear whether using a smart watch strapped to your wrist would constitute a hand-held device for the purposes of the mobile phone legislation – this matter would have to be decided by the courts. However, if operating such a device affects your driving, you can still commit offences such as not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving – see the section on 'Standard of driving' for further information. Additionally, the legislation on viewing a screen would also apply – see the section on 'Viewing a screen'. Please also see the section on 'Mobile phone/other hand held devices – legislation' for information in relation to the use of voice command systems.
Viewing a screen
Legislation states that no person shall drive or cause or permit to be driven a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is in such a position as to be able to see, directly or by reflection, a television screen or similar apparatus except one showing information:
- about the state of the vehicle or its equipment e.g. screen warning lights;
- about the location of the vehicle and the road on which it is located e.g. some GPS tracking devices;
- to assist the driver to see the road adjacent to the vehicle e.g. reversing cameras; or
- to assist the driver to reach their destination e.g. sat navs .
In ear earphones
There is no specific legislation that applies to using head/earphones whilst riding/driving. However, when driving it is best not to do anything that restricts your senses, as this may impede your awareness of or reaction to a situation. If this occurred, depending on the circumstances, you could be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention but this would ultimately be a matter for a court to decide.
The mobile phone legislation only applies to motor vehicles. However, if a cyclist was using a mobile phone, they could commit offences such as careless or dangerous cycling.
The use of 2-way radio equipment (unless the device can also be used as a phone) when driving is not included in the mobile phone legislation note that if a device is a dual or multi-purpose device that can be used both as a mobile phone and a 2-way radio, the use of the device while driving or supervising a provisional licence holder is prohibited. Use is prohibited whether the device is being used as a 2-way radio or as a mobile phone. However, whilst the law on mobile phones doesn't apply to a two-way radio, if operating such a radio affects your driving, you can still commit offences such as not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving – see the section on 'Standard of driving' for further information.
Using a mobile phone /smart watch to scan
Potentially there could be legal issues with using a smart watch/phone to scan/pay for goods services whilst driving e.g. at a take away food retailer or car park, but it would be a matter for a court to decide. To avoid any problems, we would suggest that if you wish to pay in this way you stop, turn the engine off and get out of the vehicle to scan your watch/phone.