It will soon be illegal for anyone to pick up and use their mobile phone while driving, closing a legal loophole that has often been exploited and allowed people to escape or incur a lesser punishment.
With a second lockdown and many shops and restaurants closed during one of the busiest times of the year, courier drivers are going to be flat-out with deliveries and hauliers more in demand to keep supermarket shelves stocked. Keeping to the right side of the mobile phone law will help drivers to prevent serious accidents, avoid fines and points on their licence, and keep motor trade insurance or fleet van insurance policies valid.
What do the new hand-held device laws mean to all drivers and how can you use your mobile phone safely whilst in a vehicle?
Keeping Mobile Safe
Research from the RAC has found that illegal mobile phone use is currently at its highest rate for four years. During last year alone, the UK saw 637 casualties from incidents involving a driver using a mobile phone whilst behind the wheel, including 18 deaths and 135 serious injuries.
Since 2003 you are only legally allowed to use a mobile phone whilst driving if it is fully hands-free. This means you can’t pick it up and use it to text or talk with someone, no matter how brief the communication, or to access the internet.
Where the loophole comes in is whether you are using your phone to perform an interactive communication (such as speaking to someone) or to take a photo, film something or even play games. In this scenario, it’s able to be argued that you were driving without due care and attention, which carries a lesser charge.
This was upheld in a 2019 High Court case where Ramsey Barreto successfully appealed against a conviction for filming the scene of a crash. It was ruled that the phone was not being used to perform an interactive communication function but only to access an internal function on the phone.
The Department for Transport (DfT) is expected to update the law in early 2021 to prevent any hand-held phone use while driving, including non-call or texting use. Failure to follow the new rules will land you a £200 fine and six penalty points.
If you are a younger driver just starting out in your courier career or a fleet owner who is training new recruits, it’s important to be aware of the rules and regulations for mobile use. Being involved in an accident puts lives in danger, and could result in higher courier or fleet van insurance premiums when you come to renew.
Recent figures from the RAC Report on Motoring 2020 found that younger drivers are more than twice as likely to make or receive video calls while driving. According to the RAC, on average eight percent of all UK drivers say they do this, rising to 13 percent among those aged 25-44.
Another concerning statistic from the report is that one-in-10 drivers aged 17 to 24 admit to playing games on their phones while driving, three times higher than the average UK driver. In addition, 29 percent of drivers of all ages in 2020 said they made and received calls on handheld phones while driving.
As part of its ongoing campaign to have the law on mobile phones changed, the RAC is also advocating the need for the UK Government to properly enforce the law by using camera technology. This will allow for the detection of hand-held mobile phone use and is already widely available in other countries.
Mobile Devices on the Road
Here’s some quick advice to keep you on the right side of the law when out driving.
- Using a handheld device while driving is illegal whether you yourself are driving or you are supervising a learner driver.
- You can only answer a mobile phone if it is hands-free, i.e., without touching the phone itself.
- If you use your phone as a sat-nav, it needs to be safely and securely mounted on a holder. Set your journey before starting out so you aren’t distracted while driving.
- There is a £200 fine and six points on your licence if caught using your hand-held mobile whilst driving. If you go on to accrue 12 points, you could lose your licence. Getting six or more points within two years of passing your driving test could also lead to your licence being revoked.
- The only legal time to use your mobile phone whilst driving is if you need to call 999 or 112 and you are unable to stop safely.
- You are only able to use your phone when completely stationary and are parked somewhere safe. This doesn’t include being stopped at traffic lights or in traffic.
- Remember, that even if your mobile phone is hands-free, you can still become distracted and are likely to incur a fine if stopped by the police for dangerous or erratic driving as a result. There is still concern within government that using hands-free carries a risk of collisions on a similar level to hand-held mobiles, but no ban is currently being implemented.