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23 Mar 2022

Changes to mobile phone driving laws come into force

Drivers face a fine of up to £200 and six points for handling a mobile phone at the wheel, regardless of the reason
Mobile phone on dashboard

The law governing the use of a mobile phone while driving has been tightened. The change closes a loophole that had previously allowed drivers to avoid prosecution when using their device other than for phone calls or messages, such as to take photos or watch videos.

The change aims to address the still significant impact mobile phone use has on road safety. Despite the use of handheld mobile phones being illegal while driving since 2003, Department for Transport statistics show that mobile phones were directly attributable to 17 deaths and 114 serious injuries on Britain's roads in 2020.

Below we highlight what's changed (including the limited exemptions) as the law adapts to how we use our mobile devices.

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How is the law changing?

The latest update to the law criminalises the handheld use of mobile phones for nearly any purpose while driving. Previously, it must have been proven that the driver was using the device for 'interactive communication', such as making a phone call or sending a text message.

There are some exemptions, including using a phone in a genuine emergency (such as calling 112 or 999 at the scene of an accident). Drivers will also be able to use their phone for contactless payments, provided their car is stationary and they're receiving goods immediately, for instance at a drive-through restaurant or when paying for parking.

The use of a mobile phone as a sat nav is still allowed, provided you don't hold the phone in your hand or let it block the view of the road ahead if it's in a dock or cradle. Read more in our guide on how to use your sat nav legally and safely.

Driver on phone

What counts as 'using your phone'?

Nearly every aspect of using a mobile phone has been covered by the updated legislation.

It now covers 'any device capable of interactive communication, even if that functionality is not enabled at the time'. This also covers devices that are in 'airplane' or 'flight' mode.

Here's a list of the phone uses that fall foul of the new law:

  • Illuminating the screen
  • Checking the time
  • Checking notifications
  • Unlocking the device
  • Making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet based call
  • Sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content
  • Sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video
  • Utilising camera, video, or sound recording
  • Drafting any text
  • Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
  • Accessing an app
  • Accessing the internet

What's the penalty?

The penalty for using a mobile phone at the wheel remains unchanged, so drivers can expect a £200 fine and six penalty points on their licence.

This could lead to a driver being banned if they're caught twice within a three-year period, or if they've held their license for less than two years.

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