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Using mobiles at the wheel: The offence countless people know is wrong – but many admit to committing

Research into attitudes towards mobile phone use behind the wheel suggest it’s a crime the vast majority would welcome much stronger penalties and punishments for – despite the very same people admitting to committing the offence themselves.

Using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving is illegal. It is also illegal if you are a passenger supervising a learner driver.

From March 2017 the offence carried a penalty of six points and a £200 fine.

You are not permitted to pick up a phone to follow a map. The mobile phone law specifically refers to this, stating it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile to do this.

If you wish to use smartphone navigation or a mapping app, fix the phone to the windscreen or dashboard, to give you a clear view of it whilst driving (but not obstructing your view), without requiring you to either hold or interact with it.

It is only legal to use your phone if you are safely parked – and this does not include waiting in traffic or stationary at the traffic lights. This is still the case if the engine stops automatically to save fuel (called ‘start-stop technology’).

The law also includes a proviso for emergencies: you are allowed to make 999 or 112 calls on a hand-held device while driving, but only if it’s not otherwise safe to stop.

Serious consequences

The law as it stands means that if a new driver (someone who has held a licence for less than two years) is caught using a hand-held device behind the wheel, they will lose their licence.

Drivers are only allowed to clock up six penalty points in their first two years of driving, rather than the normal 12 points.

More experienced motorists can lose their licence if they receive 12 points in a three-year period – which would equate to just two mobile offences.

Future changes…

You are allowed to use a phone if it is fully hands-free – you’re not allowed to pick it up and use it to communicate, even momentarily.

It may soon be illegal to pick up and use your phone for any other purpose behind the wheel as well. Consultation is underway with a view to legislation being enacted.

Drivers understand dangers but still take the risk of using mobile phones

Jane Woodcock, head of personal injury at Hudgell Solicitors, has helped support many people who have suffered catastrophic and life-changing injuries after road traffic accidents.

She believes survey results suggest many drivers see and understand the dangers, but wrongly believe they are capable of flouting the laws and staying safe when not in free-moving traffic.

It seems that many people think its fine to take out their mobile if stood at traffic lights, or when the traffic is slow and they are not moving far, but nothing could be further from the truth.

It is statistically proven that even using a hands-free drastically reduces concentration levels, and that concentration levels drop in the minutes after a phone call. Any use of a mobile phone is going to reduce the concentration and focus you place on the main task at hand.

The law is that you don’t use your phone when at the wheel in any circumstance, it is as simple as that. You don’t take your seatbelt off at traffic lights or in slow-moving traffic, so why pick up your phone.

It is clear from the number of people supporting stronger penalties that the vast majority of people know and accept any use of a mobile is highly dangerous and needs stamping out.

It has been suggested that the ‘fear of missing out’, which leads to so many people constantly checking their phones for emails and notifications on social media accounts, is playing its part.

Perhaps these are people who know they are doing wrong but need the threat of even stronger penalties to force them to stop taking the risk, and to accept that anything on their phone can wait.

Is catching up on Facebook worth the risk of losing your licence?

Hudgell Solicitors previously campaigned as part of the national Road Safety Awareness Week, spearheaded by road safety charity Brake, for drivers to ‘switch off’ from their mobiles when behind the wheel.

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