The laws and penalties for using your phone whilst driving have just got tougher. As of 1st March, if you’re caught handling your phone behind the wheel you could be handed six points on the spot and a £200 fine. This is double the cost and twice as many points as before!

There’ll no longer be the option to go on a driver awareness course either, which could see younger, newly qualified drivers at risk of a ban for getting caught out with a first time offence. That means if you’re caught within the first two years after passing your test your license could be revoked.

That’s all well and good, but how clued up are you on what counts as using your phone? We’ve teamed up with leading motoring solicitor, Anton Balkitis, to bust any myths surrounding mobile use on road.

Can I still use my phone for GPS if it is on a cradle/mount?

The use requirement of ‘using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving’ is generally broken down by showing:

  • The driver handling the device in some way
  • The device being used to transmit data

There is a fairly strong argument to suggest that if you have the device set up prior to beginning your journey, and do not interact with it during the duration of your driving, you’re not committing an offence.

It is always for the interpretation of the Courts regarding what amounts to ‘use’, and if there was any element of having to touch the screen to activate the device whilst driving.

What you might not realise though is issues with the position of the phone. Most telephone mounts/cradles are below the windscreen level and if you’re relying on the device to navigate at the same time as driving, there may be an argument that you are driving carelessly. This is because your full attention cannot be directed into your line of driving and your vision will be compromised.

Can I use my phone whilst stopped in traffic?

The answer to this is dependent upon whether you are considered to be driving at the time. Unfortunately, again this is open to interpretation with inconsistent results.

Courts have to look at whether you are in control of the vehicle, including whether the ignition is running, the car is in gear, and the handbrake applied. They also take into account the context of being stopped in traffic and how likely it is that you will be required to drive imminently.

If you’re in a queue of stop-start traffic or even at traffic lights, you are likely to be considered driving in most circumstances. If the engine is running without the handbrake applied, you are almost always going to be considered driving and any hand held mobile phone use would fall foul of the legislation.

Can I use my phone on loudspeaker?

As with the question discussing the GPS function on your telephone, this will depend upon whether you have been required to handle the device. If you’re required to hold the phone or activate a call, you will again fall foul of the legislation.

Various ‘in-car’ hands free systems rely on different speakers and microphones to those on the phone. So, even if you were not required to touch the phone, it can be very difficult to hear and be heard solely using the speakerphone, which could risk a prosecution for careless driving. It simply wouldn’t be recommended to use the phone in this way whilst driving or whilst in control of the vehicle.

Where should I keep my phone within the car whilst using Bluetooth?

It is recommended that your telephone be kept out of reach in a place where you would not be tempted to pick up and check it. It can also be very distracting if your device is loose on the passenger seat or in a compartment where it might fall or slide around. It’s always safer to put the phone in places such as glove compartment, a handbag in the foot well or in the boot or the car, where Bluetooth connections will still work.

In what instances is it legal to use my phone in the car?

If you are not driving or in control of the vehicle, you can use your phone as you wish. If you are driving, the safest way is when the vehicle is parked up, away from the flow of traffic with the engine off, ignition off and gears in neutral.

If you are driving and have to use your phone, the only way to ensure you aren’t breaking the law is by using a hands free system where the call can be picked up and dropped without having to touch the device – without your driving standards being compromised.

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