Are hands-free phones legal? UK driving law explained – and how a ban could work

Are hands-free phones legal? UK driving law explained – and how a ban could work
Are hands-free phones legal? UK driving law explained – and how a ban could work

MPs have demanded that ministers look into bringing in a ban on motorists using hands-free mobile phones while driving.

The controversial measures have been recommended as evidence suggests the use of hands-free mobiles can create the “same risk of a collision” as using hand-held mobiles, the Commons Transport Committee warned.

Driving law only prohibits the use of phones being held by drivers, which MPs believe gives the “misleading impression” that hands-free is safe.

What’s the law on using your phone in your car?

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Ban on hands-free phones while driving? It’s a bit late for that

The official stance currently is that it is “illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving or riding a motorcycle.”

If you do wish to use your phone while driving, your vehicle must be equipped with hands-free access, such as a Bluetooth headset, voice command or a built-in sat nav.

Dashboard holders or mats and windscreen mounts also count as hands-free access, but “the device must not block your view of the road and traffic ahead.”

You must stay in full control of your vehicle at all times, and the police can stop you if they think you’re not in control because you’re distracted.

While using hands-free access to your phone is not illegal, The Highway Code still states that “using hands-free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road.”

“It is far safer not to use any telephone while you are driving or riding – find a safe place to stop first or use the voicemail facility and listen to messages later.”

When can I use a hand-held phone?

Only when “safely parked” can you use a hand-held mobile phone in the car (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you really do need to use your hand-held phone while driving, and don’t have hands-free access, you can only do so while you are safely parked.

However, if it’s an emergency and it’s unsafe or impractical to stop, you may be permitted to use your hand-held phone while driving to call 999 or 112.

It’s worth remembering that “safely parked” is not the same as “stopped at traffic lights” or “queuing in traffic”, and the law still applies in both of these situations.

You don’t even need to be in the driver’s seat to be prosecuted; the law still applies if you are supervising a learner driver.

You may use a hand-held remote control app or device to park your vehicle, but it must be legal and you should not put other people in danger when you use it.

What is the punishment?

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Using a hand-held phone while driving could land you with six penalty points on your licence and a £200 fine.

If you only passed your driving test in the last two years, you will lose your license altogether.

You can get 3 penalty points if you don’t have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle.

You could also be taken to court where you can be banned from driving or riding a motorcycle, and receive a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you’re driving larger vehicle like a lorry or bus).

How might a hands-free ban work?

(Photo: Shutterstock)

It’s unclear how a ban on hands-free phone access in cars might work, with the devices being much harder to detect without the visual clue of a mobile phone in hand.

The Commons Transport Committee said the police should make greater use of technology to crack down on drivers using their mobiles while driving.

Joshua Harris, the director of campaigns for road safety charity, Brake, said: “We welcome the calls from MPs in the Transport Committee to tackle the dangers of phone use behind the wheel.

“Using a phone whilst driving can impair you as much as driving drunk but stronger laws and tougher enforcement are needed to make it as culturally unacceptable as drink driving.

The current law “provides a dangerous false impression that it is safe to use a mobile phone with a hands-free kit,” he said. “All phone use behind the wheel is dangerous, and we need the law to reflect this by banning the use of hands-free devices.

“We echo MPs’ call for the Government to work with the police to boost enforcement and ensure there is a true deterrent to the menace of mobile phone use behind the wheel.”