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Mobile Phone Law FAQs

 

Despite hand-held device laws becoming more stricter, UK motorists are, worryingly, are still willing to use mobile devices behind the wheel. In 2019, the RAC Report on Motoring 2019 found that 23% of all drivers, which equates to just under 10 million drivers – confess to making or receiving calls on a mobile phone while driving. The rate is even higher for younger drivers aged between 17 to 24 years old as it was found to be 51%!

Shockingly, 17% of all motorists and 35% of under-25s have admitted checking texts, email or social media while driving, despite the apparent danger that looking away from the road brings to the driver, its passengers and other road users.

Since 2003, it has been a specific offence to use a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held devices for any interactive communication (such as messaging, making or receiving calls or accessing the internet) while driving or supervising a learner driver.

Even if you aren't violating mobile phone laws, by using devices such as the radio or sat-nav affects your driving, you can still commit motoring offences by not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving. 

Our guide will explain all you need to know about using your mobile phone while driving. We will delve into new legislation around using phones in the car, switching to hands-free communication, and where the law stands on things like sat-navs and headphones.

Is it illegal to use a mobile phone driving?

It is illegal to hold a phone or a sat nav while driving in the UK. This includes using your phone when the car is stationary, and the engine is still running: for example, at traffic lights, queueing in traffic, or while supervising a learner driver.

What are the penalties for being caught using your phone while driving?

If you are caught using a mobile phone whilst driving, you could receive a standard £200 fine and six penalty points on your driving licence. The maximum fine which could be set for car or van drivers is £1,000. If you choose to reject the fixed penalty and ask for a court hearing, you face the risk of increased fines and court costs, although the amount of penalty points remains the same.

You can get three penalty points if you don’t have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle.

If someone who has held a licence for less than two years is caught using a hand-held device whilst driving, they will lose their licence. This is because drivers in their first two years of driving are only allowed to clock six penalty points rather than the normal 12.

Motorists with more experience could lose their licence if they clock up 12 points in a three-year period – which only requires two mobile phone incidents under the law.

What does the prosecution have to prove in court?

The prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were driving with a hand-held device in your hand and in use. The term “use” includes using the mobile device for texting, using any other apps, or messenger services that allow you to communicate with other people.

When can you use a phone in your vehicle?

It is only legal if you are safely parked and the engine is switched off. Please note this does NOT include waiting in traffic or if you’re stationary at the traffic lights, or your vehicle is stationary but the engine is still running.

You are allowed to make 999 or 112 calls on a hand-held device while driving, but only if it’s not safe to stop.

Is using your phone to decline a call or unlocking your phone if the sat-nav has gone to sleep illegal?

Yes, it is. A police officer will consider any physical interaction with the phone as using it, and the driver didn’t have proper control over their vehicle – which could be considered as driving without due care and consideration.

Can I use a hands-free mobile?

If a phone is fully hands-free where you can’t pick it up, or communicate on it at all, then you can use it in your car while driving.

You need to set it up before you drive so that any calls can be taken hands-free while driving. However, the police can still stop you if they think you were driving whilst distracted – even if you’re using hands-free.

Is it illegal to interact with your phone through voice commands such as Siri or Google Assistant?

If you need to pick up the device and physically interact with it, then yes, it’s illegal. If you can access the devices purely by just voice command then it’s not illegal However, you still need to ensure that you’re always in proper control of the vehicle and paying attention to the road.

Can I use my mobile phone when parked?

If you are sat in the driver's seat of a car or van with the engine running you will usually be considered to be driving.

Can you use a phone as a sat-nav?

You can use your mobile phone as a sat-nav providing you’ve set it up properly before you start driving and you don’t touch it while your car is running.

The mobile device also needs to be positioned in a way that lets you see the road at all times — for example, a phone holder attached to your windscreen. Do note that, if your phone is obstructing your view of the road, you could be breaking the law, so make sure it’s low enough so you can clearly see cars and obstacles ahead.

With navigation serving as the main motive to use a phone at the same time as driving, the purchase of a separate satellite navigation device that operates hands-free could help motorists to adhere to mobile phone driving laws.

Can I wear headphones connected to my phone while driving?

At present, there is no specific law that prevents you from using headphones while behind the wheel, although police can still issue penalties for drivers if they’re deemed to be distracted.

Many drivers may wear headphones so they can use their phones hands-free, as many modern headphones come with an inbuilt microphone. However, headphones can block out key audio cues that would normally prevent accidents, such as emergency sirens, another driving beeping their horn and even noise made by pedestrians or cyclists.

There is no doubting the fact wearing headphones while driving can impair a driver’s ability to spot hazards — and increase the likelihood that they will be involved in an accident.

If the police think your driving is potentially dangerous because your headphones are distracting you, you could be charged with driving without due care and attention or careless driving.

If you are charged with careless driving, you’ll incur a £100 on-the-spot fine and three penalty points on your licence. If you're involved in a more serious incident — or if you contest the charge in court — you could face more severe consequences, including a fine of up to £5,000, nine points added to your licence, and even a driving ban imposed by the court.

Can I use any other devices while driving?

UK law states you can’t use any form of hand-held device while driving, including mobile phones, personal media players and cameras. You can be pulled over by the police for using a sat-nav or adjusting the car radio while driving if they deem doing so impairs your ability to control the car correctly.

You may use tools that give you hands-free access to your mobile phone, such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto systems that allow you to connect your phone to the car’s infotainment system.

You can also use your mobile device’s sat-nav functions (if you’re using a windscreen-mounted phone cradle) so long as you don’t touch it while you’re driving and it doesn’t block your view of the road or traffic.

What’s the mobile phone driving offence code?

The endorsement code for using a mobile phone whilst driving is CU80. Being caught carries a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.

Updated legislation

It’s illegal to hold a mobile phone while driving (correct as of August 2021) regardless of the reason for doing so. Previously, mobile phone laws banned motorists from using their phones for communication purposes. Rules have since been updated to ban drivers from holding their phones for any reason.

The change follows a landmark case in 2019 when a driver overturned a charge for using his mobile phone when driving as he wasn’t using the device for communication reasons but filming a crash instead.

Could I lose my licence for using a phone whilst driving?

If a new driver (someone who has held a licence for less than two years) is caught using a hand-held device behind the wheel, they will lose their licence. Motorists are only allowed to clock up six penalty points in their first two years of driving, rather than the normal twelve.

More seasoned drivers can lose their licence if they receive twelve points in a three-year period – so just two mobile phone incidents under the current law. Also, if the police feel it is an unusually extreme example of using a mobile phone behind the wheel, the driver could be taken to court. Here, the maximum fine is £2,000, and guilty drivers could face disqualification.

If any drivers are involved in an accident that is caused by using a hand-held device behind the wheel, they face stiff penalties too.

For example, the government is contemplating increasing the penalty for causing death by dangerous or careless driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. A two-year driving ban is also a given.

View UK Road Law Guides