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Woman driving car whilst on the phone

It’s sometimes difficult to believe that a comprehensive ban on the use of handheld mobile phones has been in effect since 2003: on any journey there’s a good chance you will see at least one driver on a call or fiddling with a smartphone. Mobile phone use is distracting and drastically reduces reaction time, yet people stubbornly believe that the law is only for other ‘bad’ drivers, or that a short call won’t hurt anyone.
This section covers:

    Penalties

    You don’t have to cause an accident to be prosecuted for using your mobile phone: you only have to be seen doing it.

    • Anyone caught using a hand-held phone while driving will receive a fine of £100 and three points on their licence
    • If they subsequently refuse to pay the fine, they will receive a court summons
    • They may also be issued with a court summons if the policeman involved thinks the fixed fine is insufficient to cover the offence
    • In court, the maximum fine is £1,000. This increases to £2,500 for drivers of buses and HGVs
    • Outright disqualification is also possible in court

    Hand-held mobile phone use is also factored into other crimes, such as careless or reckless driving, or even causing death by careless or dangerous driving. These crimes are obviously associated with far more serious penalties, including larger fines, more points on your licence, outright disqualification and the possibility of jail time.

    Employer liability

    An employer may also be prosecuted if they:

    • Require their employee to make or receive calls when driving
    • Install a phone in a car that is subsequently driven dangerously
    • Cause or permit employees to drive while using a phone
    • Cause or permit employees to drive without proper control of a vehicle

      Exceptions to the law

      There are a handful of exceptions worth noting:

      • You will not be prosecuted if you are making an emergency call and it is not possible for you to stop safely
      • You will not be prosecuted if you are safely parked (and your engine is off)
      • Strictly speaking, the law doesn’t apply to the use of a two-way radio. Nevertheless there are general purpose laws against not driving with full control of a vehicle or not paying attention to the road that may apply instead

      Additionally, the law only applies to drivers or supervisors of learner drivers. Passengers are naturally exempt, as they are in no way in control of the vehicle.

      Having noted these exceptions, it’s important to understand that it is still illegal to drive while on the phone when:

      • Stationary at traffic lights
      • Queuing in traffic
      • Using non-call functions such as phone books, internet functions and apps
      • Texting

      Note also that the law applies to all hand-held devices, and isn’t limited to phones: you shouldn’t use a tablet PC, PDA or hand-operated sat nav while driving.

        Hands-free mobile use

        Woman using Bluetooth device headset whilst driving

        Because of the law and the real safety risks it is designed to prevent, it is important to never use a hand-held phone while driving. You should always stop safely to take a call, or leave it to go to voicemail. Obviously, this isn’t always convenient, especially if you regularly call people while on the road. The alternative to this is setting up a hands–free phone kit. It is important to emphasise that these kits do not make you immune to prosecution: if you are seen to not be in control of your vehicle while operating a hands-free phone, you may be similarly fined and prosecuted. Phone calls are distracting, so try to keep them short regardless of whether they’re hands-free or not.

        Setting up hands-free mobile phone kits

        Contemporary hands-free kits can come in slightly different but similar configurations. The majority are dependent on Bluetooth technology, a high-speed wireless data technology common to most phones, in-car stereos and headsets. Common options are:

        • Headsets
        • Car stereos
        • General car kits
        • Visors
        Black headset

        Headsets

        Clipped around a single ear, Bluetooth headsets are small and unobtrusive devices ideal for private calls. Pairing the headset is usually just a case of holding down a certain button and ‘searching for available devices’ in your phone’s settings. It’s important to find a headset that offers good sound quality – at such a small size, a cheap speaker can be drowned out by road noise.

        Car dashboard

        Car stereos

        Whether you’ve kept with your manufacturer’s sound system or not, you already have a set of speakers capable of drowning out road noise, so why not use them? Bluetooth enabled car stereos can be paired with a phone as easily as a headset, and full integration has a number of benefits, including automatic fading out of your stereo when you have an incoming call, and wirelessly transmitting your music collection to the stereo on most models. The only considerations are that:

        • It will be difficult to hold a private conversation when incoming calls are broadcast throughout your vehicle
        • Some Bluetooth car stereos require an external microphone, which can add to dashboard clutter. However, many bundle these microphones freely and some are built into the stereo itself
        Mode button on the inside of a car

        Kits

        Rather than investing in often-costly stereo upgrades or easy-to-lose headsets, you can always buy a full hands-free kit. These vary in implementation, and can either be simply plugged into the auxiliary ports on your car stereo or sometimes require proper installation via your car’s electronics. Some provide mounting points for phones, microphones, and steering-wheel mounted controls. Indeed, some examples skip the Bluetooth technology to simply hardwire your phone into your sound-system and the device’s own mini-computer.

        A number of these kits are complex and difficult to self-install. Others fill your car with a lot of extra clutter. There are, however, some kits on the market that play to the strengths of this approach – sound quality can be better and you don’t have to worry about constantly recharging batteries.

        Light brown leather open top car

        Visors

        One popular place to mount all-in-one hands free kits is in your car’s sun-visor, which is in just the right place to pick up your voice, while giving you clear sound. Such devices are typically paired with your phone via Bluetooth, and are easy to mount in your car.


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