New UK mobile phone laws: what you need to know | CAR Magazine

New UK mobile phone laws: what you need to know

Published: 25 March 2022 Updated: 25 March 2022

► Drivers’ mobile phone use to become stricter
► No touching is basic premise, with one exception
► £200 and six penalty points means two strikes and you’re out

As of Friday 25 March 2022, touching your mobile phone while driving is no longer permitted. While, yes, this rule of the road is long-standing dating back to 2003, there’s actually been a loophole allowing some drivers to argue against conviction. In line with the changes to the Highway Code in January, the law has now put a stop to drivers scrolling playlists, using the camera or video features and setting the navigation while travelling.

I thought this stuff was already banned…

Indeed, for the vast majority of drivers, ‘don’t use a mobile phone behind the wheel’ has meant exactly that. Thus, plenty of drivers have invested in Bluetooth ear piecescar phone holders and newer cars with better integration with Apple Carplay and Android Auto.

However, for a handful of drivers that have been caught using their phones while driving, their legal representation has been able to argue a case that they weren’t guilty of breaking the law, technically speaking.

‘Getting off on a technicality’…that old chestnut

Yeah, the way the law is written means ‘interactive communication’ is explicitly identified as the reason for the mobile use. Since scrolling news, playlists or photos aren’t specifically ‘communicating’, until now, you were able to argue that you weren’t actually breaking the law. 

A parliamentary committee was set up following a 2019 case in which the current law was shown to be deficient. Ultimately, such a law is in place to reduce distracted driving and protect all road users from any avoidable lapse in concentration. But the way this law has been drafted essentially permitted drivers to compose emails while sitting in traffic when on flight safe mode. That wasn’t what the law intended, but these are the kinds of technicalities that give the UK legal system a bad name. The committee set about reviewing what the law needed to say and implementing it. 

What’s this one exception to the drivers’ mobile phone ban?

The question of payment, since a lot of us use the NFC tech in our phones to pay for things on our credit cards, is going to flag concerns for some drivers. If you’re wanting to pay at a fuel station or fast food drive thru’, you are permitted to use your phone at these locations. 

It’s a question of risk. On the motorway, hooning at national speed limit, there’s a need to be focused on the road and not your phone screen. Parked at a KFC order window, you’re far less likely to cause trouble if you whip out your handset. 

What’s the punishment if I get caught using my phone?

The penalty doubled from £100 to £200 fine and from three points to six penalty points in 2019, such is the need to clamp down on accidents being caused by distracted driving. That means you only need to be caught twice and you face an automatic minimum six month ban.

Numbers from 2021 show that every one in 200 drivers uses their phone in their hand, despite the law being well-known. The AA and the road safety charity Think! Have been campaigning to socially stigmatise using a phone while driving, in the same way drink- and drug-driving is. 

Getting your licence back is a bit of an effort too. It’s not just reinstated after the six-month ban either. You have to go through the whole process of paying for and passing your theory and practical driving test.

What about all the cab and van drivers?

No one is excluded, so cabbies, delivery drivers and any one else that uses their handset for work/navigation purposes needs to pull over safely before they touch their phone. It might seem a small risk, but if you think discretely keeping your phone in your lap will keep you safe, think again. New cameras piloted in 2021 can captured drivers handling their phones through the windscreen, at speeds of up to 75mph. 

Frankly, these folk need to be more vigilant since losing their licence could impact their livelihood—not that they need reminding. 

And if I’m in traffic, I’m not allowed to touch my phone then?

Nope, no touching. And in slower moving traffic, you’re more likely to get caught if your eyes keep darting down to your lap and back to the road ahead. Since digital assistants like Hey Google, Alexa and Siri are built into your phone, you should be able to do most things hands-free, even if your car doesn’t have the seamless integration of more modern cars. 

You won’t face any charges if your phone is attached to your dash or windscreen and if it’s closer to your face, the voice control should work more accurately. Or if you have the cash, consider upgrading your car stereo

If you’re really not a fan of voice control and our other suggestions don’t float your boat, consider sticking your phone in your glove box. At least you can’t be tempted to risk your licence. 

By Cat Dow