8 March 2017

All you need to know about the new mobile phone laws for drivers

For anyone who’s been living in a bubble without Wi-Fi or 3G for the last few months, a reality TV star really did get inaugurated as America’s next president, it’s sadly a month too early to be an April fool to discover that Claudio Ranieri got the boot despite the amazing things he did for Leicester City, an Oscar really was announced for the wrong film and, importantly for our young and new driver customers, the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving are now much stricter.

In a nutshell, from March 1st 2017, drivers using a mobile phone while driving could find themselves facing:

  • six licence penalty points
  • a £200 fine or having to attend an awareness course
  • losing their licence if convicted within two years of passing their driving test
  • a court appearance + a £1,000 fine + disqualification for drivers with over 2 years’ experience who receive two convictions for mobile phone use (i.e. two lots of six licence penalty points)

Think of this news as a good thing that will benefit you and those you care about, though. Let us explain why.

As well as generally being very stupid and dangerous, it’s been illegal since 2003 to use a mobile phone when in control of a car – and in 2007 the government introduced a £60 fine and three driving licence penalty points or an awareness course for anyone caught doing so. In 2013 the fine was increased to £100.

Over the years, headlines such as ‘one in four car accidents caused by cell phone while driving1, ‘hands-free phone driver convicted of causing death by dangerous driving2 and ‘texting while driving slows reaction times more than drink or drugs3 have hammered home just how foolish and dangerous this bad habit is.

In 2016, 99 people in Britain were seriously injured and 22 lost their lives in road accidents involving mobile phone usage4. Texting behind the wheel can double your reaction time, according to the TRL.

The future-changing consequences of risking your life and others instead of waiting for a short while and finding somewhere safe to park up and send a text or make a call from are brought to life really well by the short video called ‘Cadence’, scripted by actress Emmeline Kellie, who became uncomfortable with so many of her friends using their mobile phones behind the wheel.

When did the law change and what are the new penalties?

From March 1st 2017, drivers caught using a mobile phone for any length of time while in control of a car with the engine running or in ‘live’ traffic face a £200 fine and six licence penalty points, as the government tries to crack down on this common problem.

Passed your test less than two years ago?

Newly-qualified and young drivers insured by Carrot should take particular note, because anyone who is given six penalty points within the first two years after passing their driving test faces losing their licence. Just think – that’s a huge chunk of your freedom potentially gone, immediately, for the sake of a phone call, a text, WhatsApp or other message you could have waited to respond to. It’s just not worth it.

TOP TIP: before you set off in your car, switch your mobile phone(s) to silent and place them out of reach and sight, like in a bag or coat pocket

Other drivers with 2+ years of experience who get handed twelve penalty points because of getting caught twice using a mobile phone illegally could find themselves in court, fined £1,000 and disqualified from driving, and motorists who cause a death when texting or phoning whilst driving could be jailed for anywhere between 14 years to the rest of their lives.

Carrot Insurance telematics young drivers blog - All you need to know about the new mobile phone laws for drivers - inline

Received a message? Resist the urge to glance

If you still use a brick-like original Nokia 3210, for example, or you just wanted to sneak a quick glimpse at the text message that just arrived from your new beau while you’re stuck in a traffic jam, there’s no escaping the law. It basically covers all devices that send and receive data, from bricks and clamshells to gorgeous HD  smartphones, tablets and laptops, covering oral phone conversations and voice messages, pictures (there goes your Snapchat and Instagram), videos (so you can forget YouTube) and anything that involves internet access. Checking and/or sending emails on the move is illegal and so are text messages, dating apps like Tinder, auction apps like eBay, sports apps, weather apps and, well, you get the message.

What if you’re stuck in traffic?

The definition of ‘driving’ is very clear, too, even referring to a vehicle that is stationary but has the engine running, which rules out using your mobile phone in any way when you’re stationery in a traffic jam or at traffic light, crawling in a slow-moving queue or any other situation such as a supermarket car park. Even if your car’s quite modern and uses ‘stop start’ technology which basically means that the engine switches off at various times, it’s still against the law to use your phone5 unless you’re parked up somewhere safe.

Can drivers still use hands-free phones and Bluetooth touchscreen systems?

If you’ve simply got a pair of headphones that you connect to your mobile to make it ‘hands-free’, or your car has Bluetooth so you can make and receive calls whilst on the move in a more slick way, perhaps even through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you can still do so under the new driving laws, but you must ensure that you never touch your actual phone while driving. In short, make sure that your phone is paired up before you set off, before you even turn the engine on. If your Bluetooth connection drops out during the journey, find somewhere safe to stop and turn the engine off before trying to reconnect your phone.

Even hands-free can still be distracting

Most drivers who do use hands-free telephone systems from time to time will admit that even though their hands are on the wheel, it can still be really distracting and so easy for their minds to wander if they’re involved in a detailed conversation, whether it’s catching up on the latest social gossip or maybe even a conference call with colleagues.

Okay, it’s not illegal to talk using hands-free, but we’d still suggest keeping calls to a minimum, no matter whether you’re driving in busy rush-hour or when the roads are quiet. A driver’s mind being taken off the road ahead for just a split second can result in them receiving a speeding ticket, having an accident or, tragically, killing themselves or someone else.

TOP TIP: Before phoning a young or newly-qualified driver, ask yourself if it’s really necessary and whether it’s a time at which they could well be driving? It’d be unfair to distract or tempt them to pick up their mobile.

Erm, what about sat nav and sound systems?

We agree that they can be really distracting, too, so instead of fumbling around trying to program a sat nav destination or queue up your favourite tunes on the move while taking your eyes off the road ahead, we encourage all drivers to sort all this stuff out before they turn their engines on and set off.

Making the headlines for the wrong reasons

On the very same day that the new mobile phone driving laws came into force, a 19-year-old male driver lost his licence and now needs to take his test again after being pulled over by police in Oxfordshire when he was using his phone’s map app to try and find a garage to change his tyre.

Using a phone’s sat nav mapping app is actually ok within the new law, but only if the phone is secured in a cradle positioned suitably such as on the windscreen at eye level near the driver’s pillar, and the destination is programmed in before you set off6, which can’t have been the case with this guy.

‘My mum’s going to kill me!‘ the newspapers7 reported him as saying – which we’ve got to point out would be far better than the lad killing himself or someone else from behind the wheel.

If you’ve got any questions for us about these new laws, or any stories to share, come find us on Twitter or Facebook!

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.