Mobile phone laws for drivers to change making touching devices illegal

mobile phone laws
Loopholes in the law that let drivers use smartphones will be closed in 2021 (Picture iStock/Mthipsorn)

The government is planning to change mobile phone laws for drivers in the first few months of 2021. It wants to close loopholes in the law. These enable drivers to use their devices at the wheel in ways that might be as dangerous as making a call.

The gaps have come about as phone technology has become more sophisticated with smartphones. To plug the loopholes, the government wants to make it illegal for drivers to touch their phone.

What will the new mobile phone law say?

By Spring 2021 any use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving will be illegal. Drivers won’t be able to have any physical interaction with their phones while they’re at the wheel.

The Department for Transport (DfT) adds: “The new offence will expressly ban any use of the phone, even picking it up to see who is calling and then rejecting that call, or picking the phone up to check the time or the weather. These actions take drivers’ eyes and concentration away from the road.”

The new mobile phone laws will also specify that units with functions similar to smartphones such as tablets and gaming devices can’t be used by drivers.

mobile phone laws
Even touching a phone to switch it off or reject a call will be illegal under new laws (Picture iStock/Sorapop)

What will the punishment be?

The punishment for using or touching a handheld mobile phone will remain the same. This is six penalty points and a £200 fine.

How does that change?

The law around hand-held mobile phones and driving originally came about in 2003. This was before smartphones when mobiles were only used for making calls or sending texts. In law this is called ‘interactive communication’.

With smartphones, drivers can legally use a handheld phone to compose emails, look at or take photographs, or pick music to stream to their car. They can even play games downloaded to their phone while driving. This is known as ‘standalone communication’.

The problem for police

The DfT sees the police as a real deterrent in the battle against drivers using hand-held mobile phones. But if a police officer sees a driver with their head bowed, fiddling with their phone, they need to establish if that driver is using their phone for interactive communication.

There may be doubt, or the driver might show they were scrolling through music, for example. In that case, the police wouldn’t get a conviction under the offence of using a mobile phone.

The police would be able to secure a conviction under the lesser offence of ‘not in proper control’ of the car. The driver would probably only receive three penalty points for that.

Why is the change coming about?

The government argues that the many functions smartphones offer are just as dangerous as those they’ve outlawed.

It claims: “If a driver is using a hand-held mobile phone to search for music already downloaded onto the phone, the physical manipulation, the cognitive demands and the averted eyes are no different, in terms of risk, from a driver who is typing out and sending a text message.”

What will drivers be able to do with phones?

Drivers can use their phones by tethering to their car using Bluetooth or plugging into the car’s USB socket. But they must control their phone’s functions without touching it. That means using voice control, steering wheel buttons or via the dashboard screen in their car.

mobile phone laws
Touching a phone in a cradle will, as now, be allowed (Picture iStock/MPETTET)

Will drivers be able to use phones in their cradle?

As now, if they mount phones safely in a cradle, drivers will be able to touch them. This lets them program sat navs, choose songs etc… But the phone must stay mounted in the cradle.

56 comments on “Mobile phone laws for drivers to change making touching devices illegal

  1. William James 17/11/2020 1:10 PM

    At what point does the deployment of touchscreen technology in many new cars generate just as much, or even more, of a distraction to the driver and their control of the car as any of theses smartphone activities? Shouldn’t there be a much wider consideration of the impact of such technology on driver control?

    • Tim Hancock 26/01/2021 9:32 PM

      I agree 100% that the touchscreen in cars has dramatically increased distraction risk and really undermines the efforts to make driving safer. You can’t operate any screen without looking at it. You can easily operate switches by touch, feel and location without averting your eyes from the road. Touchscreens are retrograde technology.

    • Jeremy Couplan 31/01/2021 9:14 AM

      I agree. Modern cars are looking like a flight deck! – so a phone mounted in a cradle is still OK to use?

  2. Mike 18/11/2020 2:16 PM

    Will drivers be able to use phones in their cradle?
    As now, if they mount phones safely in a cradle, drivers will be able to touch them. This lets them program sat navs, choose songs etc… But the phone must stay mounted in the cradle. THAT’S POINTLESS – things like this SHOULD BE done before the engine starts up and NOT after whilst driving this SHOULD BE included in ban NO TOUCHING means NO TOUCHING do a full BAN!!

    • Owen mcgarvey 26/01/2021 9:37 PM

      Don’t be silly. Most delivery drivers nowadays are away before plotting their next destination. If they were not, they would not get all of their deliveries done. The problem here is, no one is taking responsibility. Ie: the giv aren’t and neither are employers. It is left to the driver to drive in insane conditions using devices provided by employers. This cannot be solved by fining people but only by someone taking this madness on and taking responsibility for it. Either government or employer. Right now drivers are being shafted by both these new rules will not solve this problem but will cost poorly paid drivers more making them more wreck less on our roads.

    • Lorraine Middlewood 29/01/2021 9:50 AM

      I totally agree Mike. No use of mobiles while driving at all !!

    • June Grey 29/01/2021 12:39 PM

      I agree that all organising of any phones or similar ,should be organised before your drive starts . There is very little excuse except perhaps in an ext ream circumstances .

    • Ellen Whyle 30/01/2021 10:25 AM

      I cant set my phone up in my car until I start the engine as it connects to android auto in the car so I can use sat nav feature, I suppose this happens to most people?

    • Mandy Thompson 30/01/2021 4:21 PM

      Well said Mike I agree a Full Ban on touching your phone while driving!

  3. Alan 26/01/2021 8:15 PM

    There is already too much distracting technology being fitted to new cars. The new range of expensive EV’s bristle with this stuff safety is being compromised daily.

  4. Nigel Jackson 26/01/2021 8:17 PM

    A full ban would be the best thing or if you get caught on your phone you should get an instant ban I drive all day every day and see loads of people talking on there phones it sickens me to see this it actually gives me slight road rage when I see people on there phone instant ban that’s what I would do

  5. Catherine 26/01/2021 8:26 PM

    One question re :
    Drivers can use their phones by tethering to their car using Bluetooth or plugging into the car’s USB socket. But they must control their phone’s functions without touching it. That means using voice control, steering wheel buttons or via the dashboard screen in their car.

    Isnt using dashboard screen in the car still classed as ” taking yours eyes off the road,” ??

    Just saying !

  6. Ian 26/01/2021 9:38 PM

    Once in a cradle it is much the same as the touchscreen infotainment system, so they would need to ban that too if they wanted to ban use of the phone in its cradle

    • Roger Ducat 28/01/2021 3:04 PM

      The comparison with infotainment touchscreens is well made. Adjustments to those or to a phone, cradle-mounted or not, or any other device, must figure as a grave risk by any standards. Mike is quite correct; set them up and adjust the ventilation,before you set off, then keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road! If there’s anything else required then pull in and stop.

  7. Philip 26/01/2021 9:50 PM

    I agree with Mike “NO TOUCHING”means”NO TOUCHING and a FULL BAN should be enforced.To my knowiedge only the vehicles operational functions may be used whilst driving which means even the vehicles touchscreen CANNOT be used whilst driving.

  8. David Merrison 27/01/2021 10:28 AM

    Make them place the MOBILE IN THE BOOT OUT OF HARMS WAY !!!!

  9. Noel Mitchell 27/01/2021 1:01 PM

    Anything that takes a driver’s eyes and hands away from the business of driving should be illegal unless the driver can prove that such an action was necessary for safety reasons in an emergency. Even searching in pockets for a sweet is a dangerous distraction. The law should concentrate on why actions are illegal and get away from a fixation with ever-changing technologies.

  10. c sears 27/01/2021 3:28 PM

    so the phone is in the cradle whats to stop those drivers still playing say for instance online bingo whilst on the move

  11. Rod Maytim 28/01/2021 8:35 PM

    Have built in car phone

  12. Ray Stevens 28/01/2021 8:38 PM

    it should be illegal to make or receive a call full stop…………while you are in conversation on a telephone while driving you are not concentrating on driving and that is an accident waiting to happen

    • Mr S MacLaren 29/01/2021 12:03 AM

      I totally agree Ray. A driver for 41 years, having an in-depth conversation whilst driving on busy roads removes the planning and thinking ahead that my mind is capable, of, since each is a cognitive task. It is planning ahead that will avoid almost all accidents, which is the real skill of driving, and something taught in advanced driving lessons. When testing myself on this – discussing something with passenger during busy traffic and high speed A road use – I was shocked at how little I was actually planning, and how little observation of potential hazards I was doing.

    • Lorraine 29/01/2021 9:51 AM

      Yes agreed, there needs to be a total ban

    • Dalila 29/01/2021 11:01 AM

      So whats next? Banning any conversatikn with your pasengers?

    • david bird 29/01/2021 2:58 PM

      Having a conversation on a phone whilst driving is just like/same as having a conversation with your passengers in the front an rear of vehicle…so are you then saying ban all conversations whilst driving a vehicle ? As i would say having a conversation with passengers is more distracting.

    • Michael Haley 30/01/2021 8:04 AM

      Then there should be a ban from tiki g to passengers in the car too, as talking to them distracts the drivers attention. While they are at i . Let’s ban children from the back seats as they are the biggest distraction to any driver.

    • E Williams 30/01/2021 9:00 AM

      If so talking to anyone in the car should also be banned as one tends to gesticulate and engaged in eye contact when conversing with others in their car.
      This is just common sense I.e. avoid heated and over emotional chats period and only when necessary and then cautiously

    • Rick Plews 30/01/2021 9:30 AM

      So you don’t talk to any passengers???

    • martin 30/01/2021 12:59 PM

      you could also argue that having children and other people in a car, making a noise and talking is just as big, if not bigger, a distraction as talking on the phone.

    • Mandy Thompson 30/01/2021 4:22 PM

      Totally agree!

    • LInda 30/01/2021 4:44 PM

      Surely holding a phone conversation is no different to conversing with a passenger? Or do you feel that ought to be banned too?

    • B. Taylor 31/01/2021 4:16 PM

      Having a conversation via a phone which is not in your hand so that you can see to drive safely, is no different to yakking away with a passenger I would think.

  13. G 28/01/2021 10:12 PM

    Outlaw phone use in whatever form while driving.

  14. terence 28/01/2021 10:32 PM

    the mobil phones should be made not to work while the motor is running ar the vehicle is moving the cabphones we had in the “big redtrucks ” did not work when the ignition was on ,, a bloody good idea ,, the penalty for misuse is a joke it would be adhered to if it was £500 fine and automatic ban stop playing silly games and do the job properly

  15. Roy p kemp 29/01/2021 5:07 AM

    Switch the phone OFF before you get in the car.

  16. John 29/01/2021 8:47 AM

    About time.

  17. Mat 29/01/2021 8:53 AM

    As much as I agree messing about with a mobile phone is very distracting, I find the law surrounding the technology a little out of date when it is just as distracting to take your eye off the road to scroll through a menu that’s built into a car to find a phone number or a radio station or a journeys route. There is no real difference in operating a phone in a cradle to perform phone, music or journey functionality as there is in operating the same systems already built into a car. The law needs to be more specific in identifying what is a distraction and what is a blatant disregard for safely operating a car

  18. jim Bickerstaff 29/01/2021 10:14 AM

    Holding a phone is only part of the problem, more important is the concentration required for say a business call. Passengers can understand a pause in your conversation while you cope with a traffic situation, not so a phone correspondent. I’ve seen a driver stop at a green light and then go straight across a road junction.

  19. Carol Oladipo 29/01/2021 3:48 PM

    I was knocked down by a hit and run driver who swept round a corner at speed on the wrong side of the road whilst using his phone. I suffered 2 broken vertebrae a year ago and am still in pain. He was only convicted of careless, not dangerous, driving, and failing to stop, and his sentence was 80 hours community service, a couple of weeks reporting for retraining and a year’s driving ban, plus less than £80 court fees. My sentence is probably pain for the rest of my life …not how I planned to spend my retirement.

  20. Mac 29/01/2021 4:42 PM

    What about taxi drivers who have to use a pda

  21. David Butler 29/01/2021 8:26 PM

    Your premis would also mean banning passengers because when having a conversation with someone you tend to look at them, taking in their facial expressions and gesticulating hands which is surely a lot more distracting.
    Talking on a properly fitted legal phone is less distracting as you don’t continuely look at the phone, your eyes would infact spend more time looking at the road….

  22. David Thatcher 30/01/2021 4:31 AM

    So! you’re at the wheel of your car, stationery (you are still technically “IN CHARGE, AT THE WHEEL”) see something illegal, or otherwise that would merit it being “recorded” on your phone/device as evidence, but now you can get fined/points for doing so!!…..CRAZY.

  23. Jack and jill 30/01/2021 5:29 AM

    Why not ban people from touching the steering wheel.
    That in it self is an interaction and distraction for the driver.
    Let’s just sit in the back seat and let the car do the driving Eeeeeeh……. Numpties……..

  24. Big Dave 30/01/2021 6:24 AM

    What is the law on smart watches?

  25. Phil Oxford 30/01/2021 8:06 AM

    Agree with Ian, in many ways how will this be different from, say, changing from fm to am radio stations on your infotainment system?
    Your eyes come off the road, to check the screen!

  26. colin hall 30/01/2021 8:27 AM

    Voice control should be the only method of using any technology, including phone calls

    • Clare 30/01/2021 12:17 PM

      I don’t even think voice control should be allowed. If you have a passenger in your car and you stop talking while you need to concentrate, as I often do, they will understand. If you’re on the phone, I think more people would continue the conversation and become distracted. If you’re driving, you should be driving and nothing else.

  27. Terence Goldsmith 30/01/2021 9:15 AM

    still not enough ,, people will still use mobiles and text while driving phone and car confiscation it required with no smart arse lawyer able to change the law and create loopholes

  28. pete 30/01/2021 9:48 AM

    New cars should be fitted with physical controls and knobs, Touch screens in vehicles are a hazard and should be banned that distracts the drivers attention off the road.
    car radios should have knobs that tune and adjust the volume. the touch screen should not be used to control the in car entertainment or comfort settings.
    my car has knobs, I do not need to look away to set them, I know where they are even in the dark. I can turn the tuning knob without looking at the radio as I know where the stations are, and I can adjust the volume. the heating and lights are all available and not a touch screen in sight

  29. Aubrey Allen 30/01/2021 11:56 AM

    So I can lean awkwardly towards my wife to allow her to take the phone from my pocket but I can’t take it out and give it to her – silly.

  30. Clare 30/01/2021 12:14 PM

    I don’t even think you should be using voice control while driving. If someone is in your car and you have a conversation, they will understand if you stop talking while concentrating, whereas on a call people are more likely to continue the conversation. I don’t think any use of phones is acceptable while driving.

  31. Margaret Lamont 30/01/2021 12:14 PM

    Thoroughly confused. Can you youch a phone in a cradle to receive calls? To make calls? If uoi can touch it for sat nav where does it stop?

  32. John Collier 30/01/2021 4:26 PM

    Are Police and other emergency services also banned from using radio communications while driving? I am in favour of prosecuting, if the driver has been involved in an accident, but there are many distractions, such as children, arguments with passengers, radio programmes and many many more.

  33. C Warren 01/02/2021 12:46 AM

    i dont have a cradle with my satnav only suckers that keep it in place. will that be counted as a cradle?

  34. Clive Stephenson 01/02/2021 9:53 AM

    How does this affect the many 1000s of taxi drivers that now use apps based systems link to their phones to receive bookings and instructions?

  35. Steven Golder 03/02/2021 11:29 AM

    Get in your vehicle switch off phone and concentrate on driving.

  36. Dave Keith Moore 28/02/2021 12:03 AM

    If I still had my Teal Blue 1973 Mini 1000 (VTB181M), with the radio fitted under the dashboard on the passenger side, would I still be allowed to lean over to adjust the volume?

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