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 [1], and researchers have found a correlation between phone use and culpability in crashes [2].

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 [3].

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 [3,4].

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 [5].


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).

References and further reading Down arrow icon to open accordion


  1. McEvoy, P. et al (2005), Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study, University of Western Australia
  2. Asbridge M1, Brubacher JR, Chan H., Cell phone use and traffic crash risk: a culpability analysis, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  3. Strayer, D. et al (2015), Measuring cognitive distraction in the automobile III, University of Utah, for AAA Foundation for traffic safety, 2015
  4. Briggs et al. (2016) ‘Imagery-inducing distraction leads to cognitive tunnelling and deteriorated driving performance’, Transportation Research Part F, 38: 106-117.
  5. Gaspar, J. et al (2014), Providing views of the driving scene to driver conversation partners mitigates cell-phone-related distraction
  6. TRL (2008) The effect of text messaging on driver behaviour: a simulator study

Further reading