Drivers who use their mobile phone at the wheel now face strict new laws which could lead to a hefty fine or points on their licence.
From Friday 25 March, a long-standing loophole allowing motorists to escape punishment if they are taking a photo or playing a game on their phone will be closed.
It is against the law to use a handheld phone to make or receive calls or messages while driving, but outdated language in previous legislation meant activities such as taking pictures or scrolling through music playlists were not considered illegal.
The updated rules now bans virtually all hand-held use of mobile phone use while driving, in what Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described as a “zero-tolerance approach”.
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Anyone caught using their hand-held device at the wheel could face a fine of up to £1,000 and six points on their licence.
What are the changes to the law?
The original law was created 17 years ago and banned “interactive communication” but not other offline uses. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the updates to the rules were being made to reflect the wide range of functions of modern smartphones and effectively ban any phone use while driving.
Under the changes, the law has been expanded to make it an offence to use a phone or other handheld device for non-connected mobile application actions while driving, including while stopped at traffic lights or in traffic jams. This includes but isn’t limited to:
- Illuminating the screen
- Unlocking the device
- Checking the time
- Checking notifications
- Rejecting a call
- Composing text messages or emails to save in drafts
- Taking photos or videos
- Using the phone’s camera as a mirror
- Searching for music stored on the phone
- Searching for photos or other images stored in the phone
- Dictating voice messages into the phone
- Reading a book downloaded on the phone
- Playing a game downloaded on the phone
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. As before, drivers will still be allowed to make emergency 999 calls where it would be unsafe or impractical to stop.
An new exemption is also being introduced that will allow for using contactless payment at locations such as drive-through restaurants.
What are the fines and penalties?
Breaking the revised law will carry the same punishment as before.
That means offenders will be issued a fixed £200 fine and six penalty points on their licence. For drivers caught within two years of passing their test that is enough to have their licence revoked.
A spokesman for road safety group Gem Motoring Assist urged drivers to brush up on the law and not to use their phone when driving.
He commented: “We know that using a mobile phone whilst driving is an extremely dangerous action which puts not only the offenders at risk, but anyone who happens to be in or near their vehicle.
“The updated law removes any opportunity to interpret what’s allowed and what’s not. If you’re holding a phone while driving – and that includes when you’re stopped at lights or in a queue – you can be prosecuted.
“That’s why we want to be sure every driver gets the message: any activity involving a mobile phone at the wheel is a potentially fatal distraction. So if you’re tempted to pick the phone up on a journey, please think again.”