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Stricter rules on phone use while driving come into force

Date: 25 March 2022   |   Author: Sean Keywood

New legislation banning drivers from using a handheld phone behind the wheel for a wider range of uses has been implemented.

From today (25 March) a legal loophole has been closed which the UK Government said had previously been used to escape dangerous driving conditions.

The use of phones for actions such as taking photos or videos, scrolling through music playlists, and playing games, is now outlawed, and punishable by six penalty points and a fine of up to £1,000.

There is an exemption for drivers to make contactless payments, for example at drive-through restaurants, as long as their vehicle is stationary. They can also still use a device 'hands-free' while driving if it's secured in a cradle, allowing the continued use of phone-based sat-nav systems.

However, drivers must always take responsibility for their driving and can be charged with an offence if the police find them not to be in proper control of their vehicle.

Previously, the law only applied to 'interactive communications', such as making a phone call, as the relevant legislation had been drawn up before the proliferation of smartphones.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "I will do everything in my power to keep road-users safe, which is why I am taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who decide to risk lives by using their phone behind the wheel.

"I'm ensuring anyone who chooses to break this vital law can face punishment for doing so, and we'll continue our efforts to ensure our roads remain among the safest in the world."

Commenting on the new legislation, AA president Edmund King said: "The AA has long campaigned to make hand-held mobile phone use whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink driving and we warmly welcome the new law. This is a much-needed toughening of the rules to help make our roads safer."

Despite the exemption for sat-nav use, King added: "Those that believe that they can still play with their phone because it's in a cradle must think again - they leave themselves open to prosecution for either careless or dangerous driving.

"The best thing to do is to convert your glovebox into a phone box. We all need to keep our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road."

Paul Loughlin, solicitor and motoring law specialist at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said: "While this change is a very welcome development in ensuring safer roads, there will be many people left scratching their heads as to why this change in the law didn't happen sooner. 

"Legislation around mobile phone use behind the wheel has always appeared to be out of step with the evolution of mobile technology and the way in which we interact with mobile devices. These laws were last updated nearly twenty years ago.

"As ever, the challenge will come back to both education and enforcement. Many drivers have ingrained habits when behind the wheel and unfortunately some don't hesitate to check their phones, often below the line of sight for any passing police officer to notice.

"While this legislation will certainly act as a greater deterrent, it is important that we now see a sustained effort to educate drivers of this change as well as tough enforcement from the police."