What this year’s big change in road traffic law means for hands-free use for calls, navigation and more
17 years after its inception, the legislation has been updated to reflect the changing nature of cellular technology and to close loopholes that have allowed dangerous behavior to go unpunished for years.
Despite the changes aimed at simplifying the rules and tackling bad driving, there is still some confusion about how and when you can use a mobile phone while driving.
Can I use a hands-free device while driving?
The simple answer to that is yes, as long as it doesn’t distract you or obscure your vision.
Recent legislative changes relate to handheld devices and have not changed the rules for hands-free devices.
That means you can use a device with hands-free access via Bluetooth or voice control for functions like taking phone calls. You can also use a dashboard or windshield mount if you’re using a navigation app on your phone, for example.
However, you must ensure that no mounted device is blocking your view, and police can still charge you if they believe you are not in full control of your vehicle for using a hands-free kit or phone.
That means actions like customizing your sat nav or changing the music through your phone’s screen can still get you in trouble even if you’re not holding the phone, and could result in you getting three penalty points.
The House of Commons Transport Committee proposed banning the use of hands-free phones in 2019, but the government decided against extending the law to that extent.
The law on using a mobile phone while driving
While the law about using a hands-free phone hasn’t changed, the March update made significant changes to the rules for any handheld device that can send or receive data.
Previously, the law only banned using a handheld phone for “interactive communication” such as making and receiving calls or sending text messages.
That left a loophole that meant the legislation didn’t cover offline activities like taking photos or videos, scrolling through offline music lists, or even playing downloaded games.
Under the new zero-tolerance rules, virtually any use of a handheld device for any purpose is prohibited, including rejecting calls, composing messages, and even lighting the phone screen. The law applies regardless of whether the car is moving or stopping, for example at a traffic light.
The only exceptions were calling emergency services or making contactless payments at drive-through outlets.
fines and penalties
As before, the standard fixed penalty for using a mobile phone while driving will earn you £200 and six points on your driving licence.
For a newly qualified driver, that’s enough to revoke their driver’s license and send them back to retake their test.
In particularly serious cases, offenders can be taken to court, where they can be disqualified and fined up to £1,000 (£2,000 if driving a bus or truck).