Using your mobile phone while driving has been illegal since 2003, the laws have been upgraded a few times since then, most notably the doubling of penalties in March 2017; getting caught using your hand-held mobile while driving could see you landed with a £200 fine and six penalty points. This, of course, means that any new driver (that’s held their licence for less than two years) will have their driving privilege revoked.

It isn’t just called either – using your phone for texting, social media, or even programming a destination through the sat nav feature will see you prosecuted – the easiest way to think of it is if there’s any physical link between you and your phone, you could be prosecuted. Unsure as to what exactly constitutes a link, I asked West Midlands Police whether a wired headset would be legal to use for calls.

It isn’t.

Phone numbers

There are around 85 million mobile phones in use within the UK, that’s 1.27 phones for every man, woman, child and baby, it’s no surprise that 54% of Brits self-admit to suffering from ‘nomophobia’ (yes, sadly it is a thing), and clearly it’s invading all manner of daily life.

In a RAC report, 25% of motorists admitted to making or receiving hand-held calls while driving, and in the year after the introduction of the stricter laws, that figure remained the same; the tougher laws don’t seem to be having the intended effect.

Looking back to 2012, there were 22,135 prosecutions for mobile phone use behind the wheel, that figure significantly decreased over the next four years, just 11,961 prosecutions for the same offence in 2016, but perhaps the 30% decrease in Traffic Police numbers could account for a portion of that?

Calling while driving

When the new driving laws were announced, the big headlines of the day were that you could be prosecuted for paying for your food in a drive-thru with your mobile phone, as the act of handling your phone meant that you were using it. As far as we can ascertain, no one has yet been prosecuted for the offence, but it does call in to question as to what constitutes ‘while driving’.

The law is clear, if a little overzealous; to legally use your phone behind the wheel, you need to be parked up, with your handbrake on and the engine switched off. The exception is if you need to call the emergency services and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop, essentially, all other contact with your phone could be deemed as a prosecutable offence.

While laws designed to make the roads safer will always find favour, it must be said that this (just like safety cameras) is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and it’s the persistent offenders that we have to thank for it – sensible judgements have to be put aside in favour of obeying the law to the letter to avoid legal bother.

It’s a risk

Of course, this isn’t just a UK-wide problem, after analysing data from all over the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) have concluded that using a mobile phone while driving will mean that you’re four times more likely to be involved in an accident. That statistic doesn’t change whether it’s hands-free or hand-held – it’s the very act of the conversation that’s at fault, and contrary to a logical opinion, the risks are far higher than having a conversation with a passenger in the car.

The UK government deems it such a distraction, that if you’re supervising a learner driver from the passenger seat, you can also be prosecuted for using your phone; sledgehammer & nut.

To avoid prosecution, the advice is simple – when you’re driving, put your phone away, put it in ‘Aircraft’ mode, or switch to ‘Do Not Disturb’. If you must use it for navigation, it’s recommended that you pre-program your route before leaving – any ‘on the fly’ adjustments could lead to prosecution, and calls can only be made using a hands-free kit or Bluetooth headset – wired headsets aren’t acceptable.
Some motoring organisations say that driving while using your phone is more dangerous than drink-driving.

Typically, it’s taken around four decades for drink-driving to become widely thought of as socially unacceptable, and while we have a future of autonomous vehicles and self-driving cars to look forward to, they’re still far enough away that we need to treat ‘phone-driving’ with the same contempt and eradicate it from our roads.

How do you feel about phone-driving? Is it worse than drinking & driving? Should the laws be stiffer still? Let us know in the comments.

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