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Wednesday 3rd November 2021

Are you committing a driving offence by using a mobile phone?

Mobile phones are an intrinsic part of modern life, with many relying on this link with the outside world on a daily, if not hourly, basis. But, using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and since 2003 it has been against the law.

Lisa McArthur a specialist motoring law solicitor in Exeter with Rundlewalker explains the do’s and don’ts of driving with a mobile phone and outlines the penalties for those that choose to ignore the law.

Government research reveals that drivers using a hands-free or handheld mobile phone are slower at recognising and reacting to hazards and are four times more likely to be in a road traffic accident if they use a phone. Reaction times are twice as slow if they text and drive than if they drink drive, and this rises to three times if using a handheld phone.

Despite these worrying statistics, the RAC Report on Motoring 2020 found that 29 per cent of all drivers – totalling more than 11 million motorists – admit to making or receiving calls on a mobile phone while at the wheel. This is up from 24 per cent on the previous year.

Phone use while driving is especially common among young people, with 18 per cent of drivers aged 17-24 confessing to making video calls while driving – double that admitted to by the average road-user.

What is the law on mobile phone use while driving?
Laws concerning mobile phone use while driving were first implemented in December 2003. It is now illegal to hold a mobile device while at the wheel or while you are a passenger supervising a learner driver.

Mobile phone laws previously barred drivers from using their phones for only communication purposes. However, the law was tightened following the 2019 case of DPP v Barreto where the defendant was found not guilty of an offence because he was using his phone to film a crash and not for communication purposes. Since then, it has been illegal for drivers to hold their phones for any reason.

Contrary to popular belief, this includes when you are waiting in traffic or stopped at the traffic lights. Despite this, the RAC Report on Motoring 2020 found that 42 per cent of all drivers say they make or receive handheld calls while their car is stationary and the engine is switched on.

The only exceptions to the law on holding a mobile device are:

• if you are safely parked, or
• in the case of an emergency you are allowed to make a call to 999 or 112 on a handheld device while driving, but only if it is not otherwise safe to stop.

It is not illegal to use a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth headset, voice command, a dashboard holder or mat, a windscreen mount, or a built-in sat nav while driving. The hands-free device must not block your view of the road and traffic ahead, and you must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times. If any of these devices distract you and affect your ability to drive safely, you can still be prosecuted by the police.

In an August 2019 report, the Commons Transport Committee called for a ban on the use of hands-free kits while driving. It argued that using hands-free technology poses just as much risk of a crash as a handheld phone. Thus far, however, the Government has declined to bring in such a ban.

What are the penalties for breaking the law?
From 1 March 2017, those found using a handheld phone while driving face a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.

More experienced drivers will lose their licence if they receive twelve points in a three-year period, but ‘new drivers’ will lose their licence if caught using a handheld device just once behind the wheel. This is because those who have had a licence for less than two years are only allowed to notch up six penalty points rather than the usual twelve.

If prosecutors feel your use of a mobile phone behind the wheel was particularly extreme, you can be taken to court and face disqualification and a maximum fine of £2,000 if found guilty.

Please contact Lisa McArthur - Director & Solicitor, Head of Criminal Defence.
Call 01392 209211 or  Email:

READ MORE HERE for information on our motoring law services.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.