On 25 March 2022, the law on people using their mobile phones while driving in Great Britain will become stricter.
We asked Richard Biggs (Senior Associate Solicitor and Serious Injury Specialist) at Irwin Mitchell, a RoadPeace Legal Panel member, for their input on the new changes to the law:
“We sadly see far too many serious injuries arising from road traffic collisions caused by driver inattention, particularly due to the use of mobile phones. We welcome the change in the law relating to the use of mobile phones when driving, which will mean stricter penalties and the closing of a significant loophole in mobile phone use whilst at the wheel. We hope this change has a positive effect on road danger reduction and that drivers who flaunt the law are swiftly brought to justice.”
What led to the change?
According to the House of Commons Library, this update to the law is to keep up with technology as well as the perceived need for a law change which has been highlighted by recent court cases, particularly that of DPP Vs Barreto in 2019. Following this, the Government consulted on changes to the law. According to the consultation, “the Government considers that all use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving is reckless and dangerous, and not just when being used for the purposes of a call or other interactive communication.”
What will the new law mean?
From 25th March, anyone found to be using a hand-held device whilst behind the wheel, for any reason, will be committing an offence. This means that anyone picking up their mobile phone device to film or watch videos, play games or scroll through their music playlists whilst driving will be breaking the law. Significantly, this also extends to picking up your phone to unlock the device, illuminate the screen, check the time or even rejecting an inbound telephone call.
The SI’s explanatory notes state the offence “will cover any device which is capable of interactive communication even if that functionality is not enabled at the time.” (PDF) This would include a device being in flight mode.
In the explanatory notes about the amendment to legislation from the DfT it is stated that 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
Will there be any exemptions?
As well as an existing exemption which allows a driver to use a phone in emergencies, the new law creates one new exemption. Other than in emergency situations, the only other permitted use of a hand-held device will be while driving to make a contactless payment at a payment terminal for goods or services – such as a drive-through takeaway. The explanatory notes also say that using a mobile phone for navigation will continue to be legal, as long as it is kept in a cradle and not in the driver’s hand.
Any changes to the penalties?
No. The current sentence for driving whilst using a mobile telephone is six points with a £200 fine if you are offered a fixed penalty, or six points or a discretionary disqualification together with a maximum £1,000 fine at court.
Updated on: 24 March 2022