Q955: What is the law in relation to using a mobile phone or other hand-held device whilst driving?
There is a substantial body of research showing that using a mobile phone whilst driving, even legally via hands-free, is a considerable distraction and greatly increases the risk of a driver being involved in an accident. This is because of the mental distraction and the driver having to divided their attention between taking part in a phone conversation and driving. Therefore, we would suggest that you don't use a mobile phone/device, even hands-free, whilst driving.Mobile phone/other hand held devices - legislation
The legislation states that it's an offence for a person to drive or supervise the driving by a provisional licence holder, or cause or permit to be driven a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using:
- a hand-held mobile telephone, or
- a hand-held device (other than a two-way radio) which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.
Pushing buttons/touching a phone while it's in a cradle or on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorbike for example is not covered by the above offence, provided you don't hold the phone. Therefore, in our opinion, if the device can allow for hands-free calls, such as when using Apple's Siri voice command system or using a car's compatible systems, it would be legal but inadvisable to use whilst driving. However, we would emphasise that ultimately this would be a matter for a court to decide.
The use of a mobile phone or similar device for texting/internet access etc, while driving is also prohibited if the phone (or other device) has to be held in order to operate it.Can I use my phone as a sat nav
The use of a phone as a sat nav is lawful providing you don't have to hold it at any time. Please see the section on 'Mobile phone/other hand held devices – legislation' for information on touching the screen etc.
- Use a hands free kit
- Sit in the passenger/rear seat
- Ideally, don't use the phone at all
The law does not state where your phone cradle must be positioned providing it doesn't obscure your view from the vehicle – if it does you could commit an offence. Queuing in traffic
It's illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device if you're stopped in queuing traffic e.g. at traffic lights, hold-ups etc. Whilst there may be situations when drivers are held for hours in a queue of traffic e.g. following a serious accident, the legislation doesn't specifically provide an exemption in such circumstances. Therefore, to ensure you don't commit an offence in relation to using a mobile phone in such a situation, we would suggest using a hands-free kit. Wearable technology
It is not yet clear whether using a smart watch strapped to your wrist would constitute a hand-held device for the purposes of the mobile phone legislation – this matter would have to be decided by the courts. However, if operating such a device affects your driving, you can still commit offences such as not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving – see the section on 'Standard of driving' for further information. Additionally, the legislation on viewing a screen would also apply – see the section on 'Viewing a screen'. Please also see the section on 'Mobile phone/other hand held devices – legislation' for information in relation to the use of voice command systems.
- about the state of the vehicle or its equipment e.g. screen warning lights;
- about the location of the vehicle and the road on which it is located e.g. some GPS tracking devices;
- to assist the driver to see the road adjacent to the vehicle e.g. reversing cameras; or
- to assist the driver to reach their destination e.g. sat navs .
In ear earphones
There is no specific legislation that applies to using head/earphones whilst riding/driving. However, when driving it is best not to do anything that restricts your senses, as this may impede your awareness of or reaction to a situation. If this occurred, depending on the circumstances, you could be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention but this would ultimately be a matter for a court to decide.
The mobile phone legislation only applies to motor vehicles. However, if a cyclist was using a mobile phone, they could commit offences such as careless or dangerous cycling.
Using a mobile phone /smart watch to scan
Potentially there could be legal issues with using a smart watch/phone to scan/pay for goods services whilst driving e.g. at a take away food retailer or car park, but it would be a matter for a court to decide. To avoid any problems, we would suggest that if you wish to pay in this way you stop, turn the engine off and get out of the vehicle to scan your watch/phone.