Earlier this month, the government introduced a new crackdown scheme to discourage motorists from using their mobile phone at the wheel. Starting on the 1st of March, any motorists caught using hand-held mobile phones while driving will be hit with much tougher penalties than ever before. The fine has been doubled from £100 to £200, as has the number of points the offender will receive on their licence, from 3 to 6.
Any offender who is within 2 years of passing their test will also have their licence revoked, and will need to re-sit both their practical and theory driving tests. Only two days into the crackdown, two new drivers lost their licences after plain clothes policemen spotted them using their hand-held mobiles in the Thames Valley region. Earlier in the year, 3600 drivers were hit with penalties for mobile phone use in a single week in January.
These new sentencing guidelines have been accompanied by a hard-hitting ad campaign, aimed at showing motorists the gravity of the offence. Chief Constable Suzette Davenport of the National Police Chiefs' Council stated: "We need people to understand that this is not a minor offence that they can get away with."
In October last year, a lorry driver was sentenced to 10 years in jail for killing a mother and her three children in a collision while distracted by his mobile phone. In 2015, there were over 120 serious injuries caused by a driver using their mobile phone, including 22 fatalities. The President of the AA, Edmund King, said it was vital that drivers break from the “addiction” of using their mobile devices, and advised that they “go cold turkey - turn off the phone and put it in the glove box."
So when are you allowed to use your phone while driving?
It’s legal to use a mobile phone’s sat-nav system, as long as it’s securely mounted in a hands-free holder. You are also allowed to pull over to check your phone, providing you are safely parked.
Using a hand-held device is almost always illegal when driving, even when queuing in traffic or stopped at traffic lights - the only exception is if you need to call the emergency services. Texting or scrolling through social media is still considered distracting and dangerous even when the phone is mounted on a hands-free holder.
You can’t watch video footage on your phone, although you are allowed to listen to music, podcasts or online radio stations on your phone if it’s connected to your audio system via Bluetooth, or mounted on a hands-free holder.
You may use earphones as a hands-free option, but hand-held microphones are not permitted, nor is holding your phone up to use the microphone.