The Law on Mobile Phones Behind the Wheel
Since 2003 using a hand held mobile phone while behind the wheel has been illegal. But, since then phone technology has moved beyond a game of snake and offers instant access to the internet and our social media sites, making it ever so tempting to sneak a peek when we know we should keep our eyes on the road.
A recent survey conducted by the RAC found an increase in mobile phone use while driving. In 2014, 8% of drivers admitted using their phone while driving, this figure rose to 31% in 2016. Similarly, in 2014 only 7% of drivers reported sending or checking a text while driving, this figure had risen to 19% by 2016.
These figures demonstrate that attitudes towards using a mobile while driving are still a long way from the socially unacceptable view of drinking and driving, but there is good reason for leaving your phone alone in the car. Statistics released by the Department of Transport show that in the last 10 years around 200 people have been killed in a vehicle accident that involved a driver using a mobile phone.
As drivers, don’t seem to want to change their behaviour on their own terms, the Government introduced new harsher punishments for those who are caught using their mobile phone while behind the wheel from March 1st 2017 to act as a stronger deterrent.
If you were caught using a mobile phone while driving under the current law you would receive 3 penalty points and a maximum fine of £100. You may also be offered the chance to attend a ‘Driver Improvement Course’.
What is the punishment if I am found using my mobile phone while driving?
The new laws that began in March, prove the Government has toughened up! The 'Driver Improvement Course' option has been removed completely for those caught using a phone. Previously, If you chose this option, it would mean paying for the course rather than receiving a fine, and not receiving any penalty points. This option was so popular the RAC found in 2015 63% of drivers opted to go on the course. This 'soft option' is a thing of the past.
The previous punishments have been doubled so now, every person caught will now receive:
- 6 penalty points and
- a maximum fine of £200.
This increase in points received should be of note to new drivers who will lose their licence if they receive 6 points within their first 2 years of driving. For more experienced drivers, potentially 2 phone calls to take you to the maximum 12 points and you could be banned from driving.
Am I breaking the law if my vehicle is stationary and I check my phone?
How many of you use the time it takes for the lights to turn from red to green to check for Facebook notifications or the latest WhatsApp message? You are breaking the law even if your vehicle is stationary. The law applies to any time a car is on the road with the engine turned on. It also applies to any person who is supervising a learner driver, you may not have your hands on the wheel, but they definitely should not be typing out a tweet. The only time you can use your phone whilst in your vehicle under the following conditions:
- if you are parked safely
- there is an emergency in which you need to call 999 or 112 and it would be unsafe or impractical to stop.
Is it still legal to use my mobile hands free?
This is still acceptable. However, the system you are using must be completely hands-free and set up before you turn on the car for your journey. At no point must you pick up your phone and operate it manually.
Even though the use of a hands-free system is accepted, the police can still stop you. If the police believe you are being distracted by your phone, even hands-free, they still have the right to stop you and you could still be charged.
Is it ok to use my mobile as a satnav?
Google maps has been the saviour of many a driver who finds it easy to lose their way! However, it is illegal to hold you mobile phone to follow map guidance. If you would like to use your phone as a sat nav you need to make sure it is secured to the dashboard or windscreen in clear view of the driver. This way there is no need for you to hold or touch the phone during your journey and you may still arrive without too many wrong turns!
Further research by the RAC has found 80% of respondents support the harder punishments and 35% felt the new punishments were still too lenient.
Do you think the use of mobile phones while driving is punished enough?
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23 February 2017
Written by Natalie Faughy