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Brits braced for new rules on mobile phone use while at the wheel

By Tom Gibson | March 3, 2022

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The new rulings come into force on 25th March and are much tighter than previous legislation that saw many drivers use loopholes to escape punishment.

Brits braced for new rules on mobile phone use while at the wheel

If caught handling a device, motorists will be automatically punished with points on their licence and a big fine.

Previously, drivers have been able to use excuses such as using phones for video purposes – which was strangely not written into law until now.

The new full-scale ban covers everything from making calls to sending texts, checking social media feeds, taking photos and video recordings, accessing music streaming apps and accessing other apps.

Why has the Government got tougher?

The Government said at the back end of 2021 that it will be taking action to close the legal loopholes that have allowed motorists to avoid prosecution by arguing that they were not using phones for 'interactive communications'. 

The current law says motorists can only be prosecuted by existing laws if they are found to have been making calls or sending messages specifically.  

As of 25th March, those caught by police with a device in their hands will automatically face penalties of a £200 fine and six points on their licence for the offence. 

It follows a string of high-profile cases of motorists escaping punishment for handling their phones while driving.

Celebrities and sports personalities have been able to escape convictions based on these loopholes with Mr Loophole himself, Nick Freeman, helping the likes of Jimmy Carr, David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson – escape penalties.

The most recent case this year saw Freeman get current Everton manager Frank Lampard off this hook, after his actions were recorded by a cyclist on a helmet camera. 

What's covered by the ban on handling a phone from 25 March?   

The Department for Transport has listed the full reasons for why a drivers could automatically be punished when caught holding a phone at the wheel from 25 March 2022.

These include:

Illuminating the phone 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 functionality

Drafting any text

Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes or messages

Accessing an application

Accessing the internet 

The police will be responsible for the enforcement of these laws but they may have help in the not too distant future from ‘spy in the sky’ camera technology.

A trial using these specialist cameras last year helped to identify 15,000 cases of drivers using mobile phones at the wheel, as well as snap motorists eating, drinking, or not wearing a seatbelt at the wheel.

Are there any exemptions for holding a phone at the wheel?

The Government made clear that there will be an exemption to the new rules for drivers making a contactless payment using their mobile phone while stationary to ensure the law 'keeps pace with technology'. 

These exemptions are for contactless payments (such as Apple Pay) at tolls and fast food drive-throughs or to call 999 in emergencies when there is no safe place to pull over. 

Do the new rules apply if you're touching your phone that's secured in a cradle or mount on the windscreen or dashboard of your car? 

When the new rules were announced, the DfT said in a statement: 'Drivers will still be able to continue using a device 'hands-free' while driving, such as a sat-nav, if it's secured in a cradle. 

'They must, however, always take responsibility for their driving and can be charged with an offence if the police find them not to be in proper control of their vehicle.'

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