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Changes in the law on driving while using a mobile phone

Since 2003, it’s been an offence to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar hand-held device while driving in Great Britain.

On Friday, 25 March 2022, this will become stricter.

We have a look at what is happening and why.

Why is the law changing?

The law is being updated to keep up with technology.

Since 2003, mobile devices have become capable of performing many more tasks beyond ‘interactive communication’. They are used to play music and games, take photos or videos, or scroll through articles.

What led to the change?

The need for a law change has been highlighted by recent court cases, particularly that of DPP Vs Barreto in 2019. In that case, a driver who was filming a nearby road accident while at the wheel was found not guilty because they were not using a hand-held mobile phone for ‘interactive communication’. The judge said they were therefore out of the scope of this offence.

What will the new law mean?

The new law will mean the offence is triggered whenever a driver holds and uses a device, regardless of why they are holding it.

The offence will cover any device which is capable of interactive communication even if that functionality is not enabled at the time. This would include a device being in flight mode.

The meaning of ‘using’ a phone will be expanded to cover the following:

  • illuminating the screen
  • checking the time
  • checking notifications
  • unlocking the device
  • making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet based call
  • sending, receiving or uploading oral or written content
  • sending, receiving or uploading a photo or video
  • utilising camera, video, or sound recording
  • drafting any text
  • accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages
  • accessing an app
  • accessing the internet.

Stephen Hughes, Traffic Management Officer for Derbyshire police, said: “We know that using a mobile phone while behind the wheel is extremely dangerous and it puts not only the driver, but also other roads users, at risk.

“The updated law now removes any doubt, if you’re holding a phone while driving, and that includes when you’re stopped at traffic lights or in a queue, you can be prosecuted.

“We want to make sure every driver gets the message: any activity involving a mobile phone at the wheel is a potentially fatal distraction. If you’re tempted to pick the phone up on a journey, please think again. Do the responsible thing and don’t risk your own life, or someone else’s, by selfishly using a hand-held phone while driving.”

The offence carries a minimum penalty of a £200 fine and six penalty points. This means an offender would lose their licence after two offences or, for new drivers who have held a licence for less than two years, a single offence would lead to their licence being revoked.


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