The law on using a mobile phone while driving changed earlier this year.
Despite the changes being designed to simplify the rules and crack down on bad driving, there is still some confusion around how and when you can use a mobile when driving.
Can I use a hands-free phone when driving?
The simple answer to this is yes, as long as it does not distract you or obscure your view.
The latest changes to the law relate to handheld devices and have not changed the rules on hands-free devices.
That means you can use a device with hands-free access via Bluetooth or voice control for functions such as taking phone calls. You can also use a dashboard or windscreen mount, for example if you are using a navigation app on your phone.
However, you must ensure any mounted device doesn’t block your view and police can still charge you if they think you are not in full control of your vehicle because you are using a hands-free phone or device.
That means actions such as adjusting your sat nav or changing music via your phone’s screen could still land you in trouble, even if you’re not holding the phone, and could see you handed three penalty points.
The House of Commons Transport Committee suggested in 2019 that hands-free phone use should be banned but the Government ruled against expanding the law to that extent.
The law on using a mobile phone while driving
While the law on using a hands-free phone hasn’t changed, March’s update did make significant changes to the rules around any handheld devices that can send or receive data.
Previously, the law only banned using a handheld phone for “interactive communication” such as making and receiving calls or sending text messages.
That left a loophole which meant legislation didn’t cover offline activities such as taking photos or videos, scrolling through offline music lists or even playing downloaded games.
Under the new zero-tolerance rules, virtually all use of a handheld device for any purpose is banned, including rejecting calls, drafting messages and even illuminating the phone’s screen. The law applies whether the car is moving or stopped, for example at traffic lights.
The only exceptions related to making calls to emergency services or when using contactless payment at drive-through outlets.
Fines and penalties
As before, the standard fixed penalty notice for using a handheld phone while driving brings a £200 and six points on your licence.
For a newly qualified driver, that’s enough to have their licence cancelled and send them back to resit their test.
In particularly serious cases, offenders can be taken to court where they can be disqualified from driving and face a fine of up to £1,000 (£2,000 if they were driving a bus or lorry).