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In-car mobile use: Can you use your phone at the wheel?

The law governing drivers’ mobile use is about to change. The law will soon be stricter on what you can and can’t do with your phone when behind the wheel of a car, by closing a bizarre loophole that's been in place for over a decade.

Here we’ll explain everything you need to know about the change, like who it affects, what it means and when it comes into effect.

What does the new law say?

The new law will make it illegal to pick up and use your phone for any reason when in control of a motor vehicle.

Isn’t that already the case?

No. At the moment, drivers are banned from making calls or sending texts while driving, but a bizarre loophole means you can still use your phone to play games or take photos. The previous legislation assumed drivers would only ever use a device “which performs an interactive communication”. This change in legislation will being the law into line with how people use their mobiles nowadays.

What does the law say currently?

At the moment, it’s illegal to hold a phone or satnav while behind the wheel of a vehicle. But you can use handsfree devices like Bluetooth headsets, mounted satnavs (either built into the car, mounted on the dashboard, or as an app on a phone that’s mounted in place), or voice commands.

Whatever you use, it mustn’t block your view of the road ahead.

This all applies even if you are stopped in traffic or at traffic lights, or are supervising a learner driver.

You can only use a handheld phone if you’re safely parked or it’s an emergency and it would be unsafe or impractical to stop.

What’s the penalty?

A £200 fine and six points on your licence. And if you only passed your driving test in the last two years, you could also lose your licence.

If you don’t have full control of your vehicle or an unobstructed view of the road ahead, you could get three points on your licence.

What does the new law say?

The new law will ban more uses of handheld phones while in control of a vehicle. This includes taking photos, playing games, updating social media, online banking, and so on.

But you will be able to use your phone to pay for a drive-through takeaway. And hands-free use is still allowed, so dashboard-mounted satnavs, voice-controlled phones, and so on.

How have the changes been received?

These changes have been widely praised by road safety campaigners and motoring groups alike. Roads minister Baroness Vere said handheld phone use behind the wheel was “distracting and dangerous” and that “for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment”.

The police too said the changes were a positive step. “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever,” said Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for Roads Policing.

“Police will take robust action against those using a handheld mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.”

Speaking of the loophole in the current law, RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “The closing of this loophole is very welcome and reflects the multitude of ways drivers can use handheld phones when behind the wheel in 2020.

“We know that the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel continues to represent a very real road safety risk, so it’s clear more needs to be done to make this as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.”

When will the law change?

A consultation is currently ongoing, but the changes are expected to come into effect early next year. They will apply across all four countries of the UK.

Category: Features
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