In this fact page we will cover:

  • The risks of using your phone while driving
  • The law on using your phone while driving in the UK
  • The penalties for using your phone while driving in the UK
Using any phone behind the wheel makes you
four times
more likely to be in a crash
Think! campaign video 'Life without Zoë'

The risks of mobile phone use while driving

Using any phone while driving is dangerous - driving is a highly complex task requiring a person’s full attention, as any error can be catastrophic. Drivers who talk on phones, both hands-free and hand-held, are four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries, and researchers have found a correlation between phone use and culpability in crashes.

The primary impairment that drivers face from using a phone behind the wheel, is the mental distraction from the driving task. Research has shown that after using your phone, it can take half a minute to regain full
attention, during which time your driving is impaired.

Aside from mental distraction, any distraction that takes a driver’s eyes or hands off the road for any length of time (for example to check messages or scroll through music options) is potentially lethal.

A car driven at 30mph travels about three car lengths in one second. Drivers who look away from the road for any amount of time will have travelled a long distance without being alert for potential hazards.

Hand-held phones and other myths about distraction

Speaking on a hands-free phone poses a similar level of risk to speaking on a hand-held phone. As mental distraction is the main impairment of phone use behind the wheel, drivers using a hands-free phone still suffer from what is known as 'inattention blindness', in which they may 'see' hazards but do not register them.

It has been argued that talking on a phone is no different to talking to a passenger. However, research has found drivers talking to passengers are less at risk than drivers on phones; it is theorised by researchers that conversations with passengers are modulated because both the driver and passengers can see what is happening on the road.

Reactions when using hands-free phones are
30% slower
than reaction times at the drink-drive limit

The law on mobile phone use while driving

Hand-held phones

It is illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving, even if stopped or queueing in traffic. The only time you are permitted to use a hand-held phone is if you are safely parked or if you need to call 999 or 112 in an emergency, when it would be unsafe or impractical to stop.

A hands-free device can be used lawfully, creating the misleading impression that hands-free use is safe. The evidence shows that using a hands-free device creates the same risks of a collision as using a hand-held device, and it is therefore inappropriate for the law to condone it by omission.

Transport Select Committee, 2019

The penalties of mobile phone use while driving

Using a hand-held phone while driving can result in 6 penalty points on your licence and a £200 fine.

If you are a novice driver, and only passed your driving test in the last 2 years, you will also lose your licence (6 points within the first two years results in automatic disqualification).