The law on mobile phone use while driving changes today – Forbes Advisor UK

It has long been illegal to use a mobile phone or similar portable device while driving or riding a motorbike in Britain – since 2003, to be precise. But on Friday March 25, 2022, the law on mobile phone use while driving in England, Scotland and Wales will become stricter.

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The reason for the tougher rules is that the original regulations specified “interactive communication” as the offense – in other words, making phone calls and texting. But nearly 20 years later, the devices are much more powerful, allowing for a wider range of activities that could distract the driver and cause an accident.

For example, phones are now high quality cameras and video recorders, and the belief is that individuals may be tempted to capture an event from their car while driving. Police have even expressed concerns about drivers slowing down to take photos when passing the scene of a traffic accident.

In 2019, a driver who filmed a nearby traffic accident while driving was found not guilty by the court because he was not using a mobile phone for “interactive communication”. The judge said they were therefore outside the scope of this offence.

Additionally, phones are used as music devices, and it’s feared that scrolling through a music library or streaming service could easily prove to be a dangerous distraction. Gambling is also considered problematic.

The problem is real and deadly serious. Transport Statistics Department for 2020 show that 17 people were killed, 114 people were seriously injured and 385 were slightly injured in traffic accidents in Britain where the driver was using a mobile phone.

Under the new rules, it will be an offense for a driver to hold and use a phone for any reason. The extended list of examples of “using” a phone includes:

  • illuminate the screen
  • check the time
  • verification of notifications
  • device unlock
  • make, receive or reject a phone or internet call
  • send, receive or upload oral or written content
  • send, receive or download a photo or video
  • using a camera, video or sound recording
  • write any text
  • access all stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, movies, playlists, notes or messages
  • access an application
  • access the Internet.

Phones can be used as sat nav devices provided they are kept in a cradle, and hands-free calling is permitted. But the police can still charge a driver with an offense if they think they are distracted.

Several motoring groups have called for rules on the use of hands-free devices to be tightened.

The new rules apply when the engine is running, i.e. when the driver is deemed to have control of the vehicle. This means that a phone cannot be held and used at traffic lights or in a queue.

A driver who breaks these rules faces a minimum fine of £200 (this can increase to £1,000 if not paid promptly) as well as six points on their licence, with license loss possible after two breaches . Anyone found guilty within two years of passing their exam would only have to commit an offense to have their license revoked.

Exemptions to the new rules include:

  • use the phone to call emergency services
  • make a contactless payment when the vehicle is stationary, the item being provided at the same time or after the contactless payment (for example, paying for parking or a drive-in meal).

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