Mobile Phones: Rules When Driving
Driving while holding a mobile phone has been against the law since 2003, but many people still appear to be confused by this legislation. It’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with the ins and outs of mobile phone safety while driving, as the penalties for getting it wrong can be high.
Only a few days ago, in a very high-profile case, footballer David Beckham was convicted of driving while holding a mobile phone. In his defence, he said that he was in very slow-moving traffic in the middle of London. Unfortunately, no matter how slow-moving the traffic is, it’s still against the law to hold your mobile phone and getting caught can cost you dearly, as Mr Beckham discovered.
Incorrect mobile phone use for company or fleet drivers can also bring stiff penalties for employers and managers.
In an effort to clarify the law on using a mobile phone while driving, we’ve put together a clear guide on what is legal and what isn’t, plus what you can expect if you flout the law. We also look at mobile phone safety policy for businesses.
Use your mobile phone with a hands-free kit – You can use your mobile while driving providing that it’s fully hands-free. You’re not allowed to even pick it up, so make sure you have it in a suitable holder which doesn’t obstruct your vision. You must set up the hands-free before turning on the engine.
Calls and texts – You can take calls providing you don’t have to touch the phone, but don’t be tempted to read text messages. You can always get Siri to read them to you and you can respond in the same way.
SatNav – you can use your hands-free phone as a satnav, but only if it’s in a holder which isn’t blocking your vision and only if you program the routes you want to use before you set off on your journey. If you need to put in new directions, find somewhere safe to park and turn off the engine before doing so. Being caught even touching the phone with a finger could be expensive.
Do, however, be aware that the police can still stop you if they think you’ve been distracted by your mobile phone while driving.
999 calls – there is one exception to the above rules. You can make a 999 emergency call on a handheld mobile phone while driving, but only if it’s not safe to stop.
Use your handheld mobile phone if your car engine is running. That means you can’t use it:
- in slow-moving traffic, Mr Beckham!
- while you’re stopped at traffic lights
- while you’re stopped at a closed railway barrier
- while you’re stopped in a traffic jam
- if you have a car that turns off its engine when you stop at traffic lights. You’re still in the traffic stream and need to be totally aware of what’s going on around you.
- if you’re in the passenger seat but are instructing a learner driver. Although you’re not actually behind the wheel, you are responsible for the safe conduct of the vehicle and face the same penalties for improper use of a mobile.
Tightening the laws
There have been several cases brought to court where motorists have been charged with using their phones to take photos or videos of incidents or crashes while driving. These drivers have successfully pleaded that they weren’t using the phone as a device ‘which performs an interactive communication’ as specified by the current legislation, so the charges were not valid. In a bid to close this loophole, there are plans to change the law on hand-held phone use while driving. This revision is expected in early spring 2020.
If you’re caught using a handheld mobile phone while driving you can be given an instant penalty of six points on your licence plus a £200 fine.
If you’re involved in a serious crash, the police will check your mobile phone records to see if the phone was in use at the time of the accident. If it’s found that it was, your case can go to court and you could be fined a maximum of £2000 and face disqualification. If the accident resulted in a death, you could be tried for causing death by dangerous or careless driving and could end up in prison.
If you’ve been driving for less than two years, you will lose your licence as you are only allowed a maximum of six penalty points in your first two years of driving. If this happens, once your ban is over you will have to start again with a provisional licence and take a new driving test.
Employers and fleet managers:
Good communications are vital to any business and it’s likely that you’ll expect to be able to contact your drivers while they’re out and about. Company car drivers are among the most likely to be using mobile phones while on the road, very often on work-related matters.
The same basic rules for mobile use apply to company cars as to private individuals of course, but how can you as an employer or fleet manager ensure that your drivers comply with the law?
- Include a comprehensive mobile phone policy with the other safe driving standards that you expect from your drivers and make sure they understand that it’s not optional. This should be implemented whether the driver is in a company vehicle, their own vehicle or a hired vehicle.
- Reinforce the company policy on a regular basis in training, recruitment and staff appraisals. Remind drivers and their line managers regularly of the dangers of using a handheld phone while driving.
- Don’t expect your drivers to answer calls or texts straight away – in fact, it’s a good idea to make it clear that you positively expect them to ring back when it’s safe for them to do so.
- If you are responsible for planning the journeys of your drivers, make sure that you include rest stops which will give your driver the chance to check for messages and reply to calls. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has a free advice PDF ‘Driving for Work: Safer Journey Planning’
- Make it clear that disciplinary proceedings will result if drivers ignore the mobile phone safety policy and that persistent disregard of the policy will be seen as a serious matter.
- Make staff aware that the company will give to the police all relevant information on the driver of any company vehicle which is involved in a crash.
While it is presently legal to use a mobile phone provided it’s attached to a hands-free kit and is in a suitable holder, RoSPA reports that there is a substantial body of research which proves that using even, ‘… a hands-free mobile phone while driving can be a significant distraction which substantially increases the risk of crashing.’
The organisation points out that the driver is concentrating on two complex tasks at once and that drivers:
- often take their eyes off the road to look at the phone
- are much less aware of their surroundings and what’s happening on the road
- can miss road signs
- can drift from their lane position
- are more likely to tailgate the vehicle in front
- react more slowly and take longer to brake
- feel more stressed and are more likely to make mistakes
- are four times more likely to crash, potentially injuring or killing other people as well as themselves.
Perhaps the safest company policy would be to completely ban the use of mobile phones in company vehicles, unless that vehicle is parked and the engine is turned off.
How to check compliance?
It’s one thing to put policies in place but can be another to make sure they’re being abided by.
If your company provides mobile phones for your drivers, you can consider making spot checks of the phone records and assessing whether the phone was in use when the staff member was likely to have been driving. Documenting these checks demonstrates to your staff and outside agencies that your mobile phone safety policy is being implemented.
Penalties for employers
If you condone your staff using their mobile phones inappropriately or unsafely while at work, you could be prosecuted under health and safety law if a police investigation showed that using a mobile phone could have contributed to a crash. Victims of that crash could also sue you for compensation.
Something as simple as answering a phone call in an unsafe manner can have devastating results if you’re driving at the time. It’s extremely unlikely that waiting a short while until you can park safely before answering will cause a problem.
Is it really worth the risk?