Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal, and can result in up to six penalty points and a £200 fine. But what exactly does this offence constitute, and are there any exceptions?
What devices does the law apply to?
The term ‘mobile phone’ covers all types of cell-phones and smart phones, and the relevant law applies specifically to hand-held devices. A device is ‘hand-held’ if it has to be held at some point to make or receive a call, or to communicate in any other way – including by using the internet, or sending and receiving voicemails, texts, pictures or videos.
The meaning of ‘using’, in the context of this law, has been the subject of some dispute. While historically it was taken to refer to anything from touching, picking up or moving the device at any time, the recent successful appeal against the conviction of a driver who used the camera on his phone to film a car accident has called this definition into question.
What is clear is that this law specifically prohibits the use of a mobile device for communication purposes – whether that is by making or receiving calls or messages or by using internet services. The law still applies if you’re stopped at traffic lights, queuing in traffic or supervising a learner driver.
Use of a Bluetooth headset, voice command or a dashboard holder is allowed so long as no contact is required with the device. Even so, the police can stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted, and you can be prosecuted.
CAN I STILL USE MY MOBILE PHONE AS A SAT NAV?
You are only able to use your mobile phone as a sat nav if the phone is mounted in a hands-free holder.
Drivers should programme and start their route before they begin driving, as trying to set it while driving would amount to ‘using’ the mobile phone, and could lead to a conviction.
If you needed to change the route on your device you would need to pull over safely before doing so.
CAN I EVER USE MY PHONE WHEN DRIVING?
The only exception to the rule is where a driver is using the mobile phone to call the police, fire, ambulance or other emergency service. However, there are a number of conditions that must be met for this to be used a defence, including that it is in response to a genuine emergency, and that it is unsafe or impracticable to cease driving in order to make the call.
If it is practical for you to pull over, you should do so safely before using your device.
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