Keeping Your Drivers Legal: Distracted Driving and Mobile Phone Laws in Britain You Need to Know

Distracted driving in the UK has never been allowed, and the penalties are devastating. Yet, many people still break the law every day, and more drivers now think making a call behind the wheel is acceptable than in 2014.

Distracted driving doesn't just result in near misses or silly mistakes. Brake, the road safety charity, reported that in 2016, there were 1,445 fatal crashes. Out of these, police recorded 397 incidences of "failure to look" and 140 incidences of "in-vehicle distractions, distractions outside the vehicle, and phone use." That means almost a third of those fatal crashes might have been preventable.

What is the mobile phone law in Britain, and how can you ensure your fleet upholds it and protects themselves and other drivers? Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Britain's Mobile Phone Law?

The UK banned the use of mobile phones behind the wheel back in 2003, and the effort to continue ban phones has not dissipated.

In 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to make using phones as socially unacceptable as drink-driving. 

What does the law saw? It says that no driver is allowed to touch or hold their mobile or sat nav while driving in any circumstances.

Instead, you can only use 'hands-free' options. These include:

  • Bluetooth headsets
  • Voice command
  • Dashboard holders
  • Windscreen mounts
  • Built-in sat nav

If you mount your device, it must not obstruct your view. Usually, that means keeping it off your windscreen when possible or placing in the lower, central part of your windscreen.

The mobile ban doesn't just apply on motorways. You cannot use one even when you're queuing in traffic or stopped at lights. If you are supervising a learner driver, then you are considered the primary driver, and you may not use a mobile phone.

Can the Police Stop You for Using a Phone?

Police are within their rights to stop you if they have reason to believe you are distracted by your phone.

Where Are You Allowed to Use Your Mobile?

There are only two times you can use your phone.

The first is if you are safely parked either in a car park or on a shoulder or lay-by.

The second is if you need to ring the emergency services, but you cannot stop. In this case, stopping needs to either be unsafe or impractical.

What Are the Penalties for Distracted Driving?

The penalties for distracted driving were severe before, but in September 2016, they doubled.

If you get caught using your hand-held device, you receive a £200 fine and six penalty points on your first violation. That means if you are caught using your phone twice in three years, then you lose your license.

The police may also assign three points in cases where you don't have full control of the vehicle or if a device obstructs your view.

The penalties are particularly severe if you are a new driver or driving a fleet vehicle. New drivers who passed their test in the past two years lose their license if caught using their mobile. Drivers behind the wheel of a lorry or bus see fines of up to £2,500 (if taken to court).

Should the police determine mobile phone use contributed to an accident, the offending motorist can lose their license for two years. If the accident resulted in a death, the driver could spend years in prison. The government suggested 14-years to life could be a possible new standard.

How to Prevent Distracted Driving at Work

If you operate a fleet of vehicles in Britain, it is vital that you impress upon your drivers the need to follow Britain's hands-free law. After all, the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 says that you have "duty of care" for your employee's safety and for the protection of those they interact with, such as other road users while driving.

A company policy that reflects the government's wish to make it as anti-social as drink driving is just one place to start.

You can use Road Safety GB's example. It includes a list of obligations for everyone using company vehicles as well as two appendixes: one for mobile phones and sat navs and a second for drink driving.

Your policy should outline times where it is safe and appropriate to use mobile phones and sat nav. It should also include any time where the driver might be subject to employer disciplinary proceedings to make sure drivers understand the professional consequences of using their phones behind the wheel.

In addition to your policy, you should practice what you preach. Don't expect fleet drivers to return calls immediately when they are on the road, and you certainly shouldn't penalise them for waiting until they reach a safe place to pick up or return a call.

At the same time, you can't be with your drivers at all times. And given the long hours some can spend on the road, you should consider an extra layer of insurance to protect your colleagues, other drivers, and your business. You might also consider using anti-distraction software in each vehicle. The software blocks incoming calls and texts to remove the temptation to pick up the phone.

It's Up to Us to Stop Distracted Driving

The UK's mobile phone law is clear: You cannot pick up a mobile phone or sat nav when the car is in motion or even when sitting in traffic or at a light.

Doing so comes with enormous risks for other motorists and the potential for severe fines and the potential loss of a license.

Modelling safe driving practices starts at the top. Your company policy should make your expectations clear, and you should foster an environment that encourages your teams to switch their phones off when possible.

Anti-distraction apps can also help them be more responsible. Click here to check out our app to learn more about how you can help fulfil your duties to make the road a safer place to be.