In 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to make using a phone when driving as unacceptable as drink-driving. Last April, tougher penalties were introduced to deter phone use at the wheel.
But since then, more than 200 drivers a day have been prosecuted for using their phone while driving. That means they’ve been slapped with six points on their licence and a £200 fine.
Some drivers complain they find the law confusing around the areas of making calls while driving and using a phone as a sat nav device. Many reason this confusion comes from being told it’s okay to use a phone while driving when it’s in hands-free mode.
This is what motorists need to know to stay on the right side of the law. As importantly, it will help keep them and other road users safe.
The law: hands-free phone use
The government says drivers may use a phone if it is being operated in what’s known as a ‘fully hands-free mode’.
That means it has to be synchronised with the car’s infotainment system, using Bluetooth or a USB cable. This should be done before starting any journey, or when a driver has pulled over and parked.
By using it in such a way, drivers should be able to operate its most popular in-car features – calling, streaming music or navigation – using voice prompts.
Theoretically, when a phone is set up in this way, it can be stored safely out of sight, in the glovebox or another storage compartment. This should reduce the potential for distraction.
At no point – even when stopped in traffic – can the phone be physically handled. Even scrolling through your phone’s list of favourite contacts to select a caller is forbidden.
Alternatively, if a smartphone can’t be synchronised with a car’s devices, it should be operated using voice commands. For Apple iOS devices that’s Siri, Google Now for Android smartphones or Cortana for those running Windows. A Bluetooth headset may be required to make this work successfully.
Remember the police can still stop a driver if they believe they are being distracted and present a danger to themselves and other road users.
The law: using a phone as a sat-nav
When using a smartphone and app to help navigate a journey, drivers must still stick to the law around mobile phones.
It should either be synchronised with the car’s infotainment system, and then stored safely in a dashboard mount, or operated as a stand-alone unit and secured in a dashboard mount.
The address should be programmed before commencing any journey. Should you need to make an alteration to the route, this must be done using voice prompts or when safely parked.
The law: placing a phone safely on the windscreen
Synchronising a car and smartphone enables the vehicle’s infotainment system, and associated voice commands and steering wheel-mounted buttons to control the phone. The handset should be secured in a phone mount.
This in turn must be safely positioned. It can’t be stuck to the middle of the windscreen, for example. According to the UK Road Traffic Act 1988, most of the windscreen is out of bounds.
The law divides the windscreen into two zones:
- Zone A is a 290mm area centred around the steering wheel
- Zone B is the area of the windscreen that is covered by your windscreen wipers when they are active, and is commonly referred to as the ‘swept area’
No part of the device – cradle, suction cup or cables – should intrude more than 10mm into Zone A. And only 40mm intrusion into Zone B is permitted.
For this reason, many drivers choose to locate their phone using a mount that attaches to the dashboard’s air vent.