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 divide their attention between using their phone/device 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/other hand-held device legislation explained below, 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 – legal requirements
The law states that no person shall drive, 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 is capable of transmitting and receiving data, whether or not those capabilities are enabled.
Additionally, no person shall supervise a holder of a provisional licence if the person supervising is using a hand-held mobile telephone or a hand-held device as above at a time when the provisional licence holder is driving a motor vehicle on a road.
A mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point while being used.
Using includes the following –
- 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 functionality
- Drafting any text
- Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
- Accessing an application
- Accessing the internet.
What does this mean?
The offence of using a hand-held mobile phone or similar device is triggered when a driver holds a mobile phone or similar device and uses it, regardless of whether that use involves interactive communication. This covers any device which is capable of interactive communication even if that functionality is not enabled at the time, for example because mobile data is switched off, or the device is in flight mode.
Provided that a phone/device can be operated without holding it, then hands-free equipment is not prohibited by the above requirements.
Pushing buttons/touching a phone while it's in a cradle 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/device has to be held in order to operate it.
What is the penalty for using a mobile phone/device?
Using a mobile phone/device in breach of the above requirements 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 – legal requirements' 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/device when parked in a safe and lawful place, we would suggest the following:
- Use a hands-free kit
- Use the phone/device outside the vehicle
- Ideally, don't use the phone/device 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.
What about 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?
Yes, there are three exemptions to the above provisions if someone is using the mobile telephone or other device to:
1. Call the police, fire, ambulance or other emergency service on 112 or 999, in response to a genuine emergency, and it is unsafe or impracticable for them to cease driving in order to make the call (or if applicable for the provisional licence holder to cease driving while the call was being made).
2. Only perform a remote controlled parking function of the motor vehicle, and that mobile telephone or other device only enables the motor vehicle to move where:
- there is continuous activation of the remote control application of the telephone or device by the driver,
- the signal between the motor vehicle and the telephone or the motor vehicle and the device, as appropriate, is maintained, and
- the distance between the motor vehicle and the telephone or the motor vehicle and the device, as appropriate, is not more than 6 metres.
3. Make a contactless payment for a goods/services which are received at the same time as, or after, the contactless payment is made and the motor vehicle is stationary.
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 may also apply – see the sections on 'Viewing a screen'. and 'Mobile phone/other hand-held devices – legal requirements' 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 or concentration, 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 but 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
Please see the ‘Are there any exemptions’ section above.