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.
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.
“I asked West Midlands Police whether a wired headset would be legal to use for calls. It isn’t.”
COLP – RPU says that would be legal as long as you don’t handle the phone while in control of the vehicle.
They went further to say, to handle a phone legally, turn the engine off and remove the key and place the key on top to the dashboard. In view.
There seems to be some genuine confusion regarding this issue, even amongst the police themselves – I had to spend over an hour through the online chat, then resorting to the phone, only to be told that I’d need to email them the question as they didn’t know.
The response was (direct from West Midlands police) that it would be illegal.
“wired headsets aren’t acceptable.”
So utterly stupid that it brings the whole law into disrepute.
Also, living near a police station, I often see cops using hand held devices while driving. Again, it makes a nonsense of the whole thing.
I think the only way to cut it out is to increase the penalties to £1,000 fine and 1 year ban, no arguments. When you go in a coach on the motorway it is amazing how many people are using phones or computers.
Mobile phones have been around for nearly 20 years, so says the story…. Where has the journalist been, or are young enough not to remember the bricks that Motorola used to sell with a gun holster to carry them in and Don Jolly to use it the park?
I used one of those. Not what you’d call mobile and certainly not something you could use behind the wheel very readily.
Hi Mobile phones have been around over 30 years mate!
I had a Motorola fixed in my cars boot. It was huge and you had a proper full size telephone handset in the cars cabin. Fun days!! It was a company phone and the monthly bill was £300 plus> So we have moved on in some ways!
Should do what Australia has done and simply make it illegal to have a mobile phone in a car that is switched on!
Oh critics who can’t get facts right. His name is Dom. Not Don.
When drunk you are drunk the whole of the time you driving. Using a mobile you are at risk only when using the phone. Therefore driving drunk is worst due to the length of time difference. This though does not make either acceptable.
Yes phone driving is so dangerous act act whilst driving that renders you paying less than 100% attention to driving is criminal. The police should have access to the motion detection in the devices to prove it was being used whilst moving.
I say ban all car phone use except for emergencies.
What if a passenger was using it?
Having worked on motorway construction projects, it was horrifying to see how many people were using their phones, oblivious to the really dangerous way they were driving.
The only way to stop this is to render the telephone and keyboard functions on mobile phones inoperable while movement is detected via their GPS. I think this would only involve a software change and simply removes the temptation. No fines or police resources required.
The added benefit would be that all those people walking blindly along the pavements staring at their screens would also find them inoperable!
what about when walking using sat nav?
What a stupid idea. No passengers, nobody in a bus or nobody in a self driving car allowed to use their phones. Another sledgehammer.
First offence – Find a Grand (£1000) and Banned for 1 year. Second offence £2000 + 2 Years. Third offence £5000 + 5 year ban.
Fourth offence, cut off thumbs. Fifth offence, public stoning.
does this mean that programming your sta nav or operating the in car infotainment is also illegal unless parked & engine off?
Yes, equally distracting = equally dangerous.
But isn’t this obvious? Why ask the question?
Why do we need these laws, often ineffective and frequently ignored? Why can we not, as a species, behave sensibly and considerately. As drivers , we all know, however self centred and bigheaded we might be, that using a phone is a distraction. I don’t answer or use my phone in the car, becauseI need glasses to do it, and I don’t need glasses to drive, not because I am an angel. If I “need” to make a call, or it rings and I feel I must find out who it is, I pull over asap and do it.
And I have survived thus far, nothing has happened that could not wait a few minutes.
There are hands free devices for those who simply “must”, or “need that business call”, or just want a chat on the way to the school pick up!
Just think, “ if I kill someone while taking/making this call, could I justify it?”
Or worse, if someone else killed my child, partner etc. , would it be “OK with me”, don’t discuss it with anyone else, have a private and honest discussion with yourself!
These heavy handed, “sledgehammer” laws were introduced to try and solve a problem that we have created.
Sadly it seems, as a nation of drivers, if not a species, we are becoming less considerate and very much more self-absorbed. This behaviour becomes accentuated when we climb into our cars and enter some bizarre sort of world where we don’t have to take anyone else into consideration and only our own purpose is of any importance: common courtesy and consideration for others is no longer of any consequence.
When we pick up the sensory deprivation machines that are our phones, it appears that we remove part of our conciousness from our physical environment and our concentration on whatever we are doing is immediately diluted. We have all cursed the pedestrian who, engrossed in a phone conversation has stepped off the kerb in front of us; in truth, a driver using their phone at the wheel is displaying the same selfishness and distraction but, unlike the motorist, the consequences of pedestrian’s self-absorbed behaviour are likely to harm only themselves.
As a lorry driver sat higher than cars, I see just how many people drive with their phone in their lap. I’d say it’s about 1 in 10 at least.
I have also noticed a big increase of people on their phone at traffic lights, not noticing the lights change. Sitting there on a green light until I honk the horn. Then they get all p**sy and speed off waving their arms about in indignation.
Its really bad when they are on the motorway, looking for the next song, or texting, you see them weaving all over the place, gradually slowing down. Then you pull out to overtake and they notice a lorry alongside and speed away again.
I think using a mobile phone while driving should carry the same sentence as drink driving 6 points and a driving ban of 1 year with a £200 fine.
Yes, I agree, but how many people do you still see driving away from the pub with no-one else in the car? The punishment is there if they are caught but what is needed more is an effective deterrent to make it safer for everyone on the road. Drinking and phone use are just as dangerous.
As a motorbikeist, I often see drivers with their heads down, texting or updating their Facebook status, which is obviously more important than my well being. I often have to beep to awaken a texting driver at a green light, and have had to take evasive action on multiple occasions to avoid being wiped out by a texting motorist. Young drivers seem to be the worst, the threat of losing their license and having to retake their test has had no affect on them. I have a helmet camera, and if there was an easy way to report these cretins and send the video in (I live on Dorset who’s police force has no such system), there would be quite a few drivers taking the bus to work now. Last year I returned to motorbikeling after a 24 year break, and the standard of driving seems to have dropped alarmingly, not only because of mobile phone use but also due to the amount of tech in a car these days.
You can submit helmet camera footage online. Call 101 and give the submission reference to your local force to ensure it gets followed up.
Fine and immediate ban
I used to be a cop. My question now is, if you can’t use a mobile to talk to someone, how can the Police talk on their police radio to their control center. Surely the damage is potentially the same? or are we saying that some drivers are better drivers than others? I note too that in Florida, USA – it is legal to use a phone to make a call, but not to text. Is that not a more sensible approach?
Studies have shown that having a remote conversation, even hands-free, is dangerously distracting. Your eyes may be looking at the road, but your mind is elsewhere. This presumably applies to police too, although their remote conversations are probably briefer, and for pursuits, their commentary is one-sided and explicitly focused on the car ahead and traffic & road conditions.
I’m curious to discover how distracting conversations with passengers are – I often see drivers looking at their passenger while talking to them…
Totally agree with you. It IS bad enough having those distractions. So to make the choice to flout the law, and do this deliberately, motorists deserve harsher penalties.
I spent 35 years flying in the RAF with some of it talking and controlling up to 8 aircraft at 600mph close to the ground. In those situations, like the police during a pursuit, it is short comments and not lengthy conversations. Practice and Risk Awareness (the ground is a big risk!) made it safe and “do-able” and I didn’t frighten myself too often:-) . However, I am very aware that I am not 100% aware of what is happening around me when I am driving and talking on the phone connected to the ICE system in the car. I believe I may be more aware than some as I often find myself stopping talking at times (We are taught to “Fly the aircraft” as the first priority). Consequently, I do not prolong phone calls when I am in the car!
The only way to stop this is by banning driving for life for anyone using a mobile while driving.
My life was put at severe risk by a driver entering a roundabout at speed, totally unaware of my vehicle, or anything else for that matter, due to using his phone. I was very lucky to be able to avoid the collision, by swerving in front of another vehicle. When I pulled into a lay by, the driver I had cut in front of pulled in to see if I was OK. Dont Phone or Drink and drive, you will put lives at risk.
My iPhone has locked automatically when my car starts to move. Even if it’s in my jacket on the rear seat. The GPS locks it out.
The softly softly approach clearly is not working. Offenders need to have life changing penalties in order to have any effect. Hit ’em hard.
Caught driving whilst on the phone by the Police? Get out the car as it is going off to a police pound. Fine zero. However storage fee of £200 per day. Continue journey under own steam e.g. shanks pony, unless on motorway as police will drop you off at the next slip road. 7 points on your licence.
Mobile phones aren’t essential and 100% concentration on driving is. End of. If you want to use it then stop safely and turn off the engine. Not hard is it?
How come the Police can have a mobile device on their shoulder and use it when driving? Seems to be “do as I say not as I do mentality”
Anyone caught using a mobile phone whilst driving should have their phone seized and destroyed plus fine and points. Simple!
Why do we have one law for the public, and no laws for the police ???????? I’ve seen them on the police documentaries when they are involved in high speed chases, and they are talking at the same time !!!!! into the mobile phone on their left shoulder, hence taking their eyes off the road, and obviously distracting them !!!!! and yesterday I saw the stupidest thing I’ve seen in a long time, 2 police officers on horseback, on a very busy one way street in Blackpool, going the wrong way !
Oh come on, you can’t blame the police for that too! Blame the council, they are the ones who made it a one way street, and by the sound of it they put the signs in the wrong direction as well.
I don’t know if having a phone call while driving is more dangerous than drinking & driving, though it’s very bad, but texting probably is at least as bad as drunk driving.
When I fly my plane, I am not merely permitted but required to have complex technical conversations with Air Traffic Control, while controlling the vehicle in 3 dimensions.
When I drive my car – which I only have to control in 2 dimensions – I am not even allowed to make a quick call to my wife to let her know I am going to be late.
P.S. Contrary to what many people think, I DON’T keep a Superman suit in the plane.
You only have to see drivers weaving down the motorway while on handsfree to see how distracting phones are, add in the idiots texting, brains elsewhere and eyes on the keypad and it’s a wonder there aren’t multiple accidents. I watched a driver chatting away, nearly bounced off an artic on the nearside then swerve over and did the same with a coach on the outside. I was following on a motorbike, so could see the idiots reaction. He merely pulled over to the nearside lane, slowed down and carried on chatting, much to the lorry drivers anger!
Living near several schools I notice that women picking up kids from school are some of the worst offenders, late, driving fast, and on the phone. When they have a car full of kids they are no better, and if you should mention their bad example, you get verbal abuse as well. Safer to keep off the road while schools are chucking out.
More traffic & longer journey time when parents driving children to & from school.