The Impact of Mobile Phone Laws Since 2017 on Driving Today

28th April 2022 Driving Offences

Since their initial introduction in 2003, mobile phone laws have increased in severity several times. Despite this, the number of mobile phone-related accidents, tickets and people using mobile phones while driving have continued to go up in line with increased ownership of mobile devices.

Here, we take a look at what laws were introduced, how they have worked and what impact they have had on driving today.

What were the new laws?

New rules introduced in 2017 stated that motorists caught using a mobile phone would be fined £200 and receive six points on their licence. This included drivers waiting at traffic lights, queuing in traffic or even sitting idle with the engine on. For new drivers (those who have had their licence for two years or less), this meant an instant ban and the requirement of retaking both their theory and practical tests. 

Car and motorbike drivers could see a fine of up to £1,000 if they unsuccessfully counter it in court, and bus and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers could receive one up to £2,500.

Also in 2017, driving tests began to include following directions from a satnav, which is a skill many people utilise today. Satnavs are typically mounted on a stand so the driver can use both hands to control their vehicle, and they are entirely geared towards the process of driving, whereas a mobile phone has many more opportunities for causing distraction, even if that device is being used for directions. For this reason, hands free devices remained legal, however, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) advised against using them.

The goal of these new rules was to encourage more caution from drivers with the threat of severe penalties as the result of carelessness.

Did the new laws work?

A poll by Leasing Options revealed that 91% of drivers said the new penalties would encourage them not to use their phone while their vehicle engine was running, and 50% of those polled said they had previously illegally used their phone while driving. 

However, in 2018, RAC reported that there had been an increase in drivers spotted using mobile phones behind the wheel. Their research revealed that 25% of drivers admitted to making calls, and 16% used social media or sent emails, both of which have gone up since 2017.

The UK government stated in 2021 that laws would change making using any mobile device while driving ‘virtually illegal’, but we are yet to see any massive change to ticket figures, as 11 million people admitted to committing the illegal activity that year.

However, despite the polls, there is some positive news, as one report shows that overall driving fines have been noticeably decreasing since 2015. This evidence conflicts with figures from polls, suggesting that awareness among drivers of the risks they take by using a mobile phone while driving has improved. 

Another report on the UK Government website also discusses that the usage of such devices is often subconscious, as drivers find themselves ‘gravitating’ towards them. The 30% of drivers who now place their mobile out of sight in a bag is a sign that many recognise that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Accidents in Relation to Driving While Using a Mobile Phone

Statistics from a parliament publication show that there was a 10% increase in the number of road casualties in relation to driving while using a mobile phone, from 706 in 2015 to 773 in 2017, which was the year that new stricter rules were brought into place.

According to THINK!, awareness has improved, but the danger of road traffic accidents where a mobile phone is involved have increased. This suggests that drivers are not taking the dangers of using mobile phones while driving seriously. THINK! advised that the government needs to define the offence better in law, explore how it could be better enforced, and make the public more aware of the risks and consequences for them and others. However, the data shows that many people are aware of these, but are choosing their own convenience over the safety of themselves and others.

Another reason analysts believe that this number is increasing is due to disconnect and scepticism about being caught, as 37% of drivers considered the risk of being caught and charged with using a mobile phone while driving was minimal. 

New Laws in 2022

If the government takes the advice seriously, 2022 could be a big year for driving law changes. As of March, a large amendment to the original 1986 Regulations was finally introduced, expanding the definition of ‘using’ a phone while driving to include many more technicalities, such as:

  • Checking the time
  • Checking notifications
  • Unlocking the device
  • Making, receiving or rejecting almost any form of communication on the device
  • Using camera, video or sound recording features
  • Accessing an app or the internet

For a comprehensive list, visit this article on the parliament website.

The one new exemption that was introduced states that drivers will be permitted to make a contactless payment at a terminal for goods or services, such as at a drive-thru or ticket gate. 

These new restrictions may have a large impact on driving persecutions by covering nearly all possible bases where a driver may use a mobile phone, and are in line with the government's statement about how they planned to make using a mobile phone while driving ‘virtually impossible’.

What to do if You Have Been Accused of Using Your Mobile Phone While Driving

Driving accidents are taken especially seriously, and are only being treated more severely as time progresses. If you have been accused of causing a driving accident, or driving while using a mobile phone you should seek advice from the expert motoring offence solicitors at JMW. Our team is experienced and professional, and can offer representation in court.

You can call 0800 804 8159 now to consult with our professional solicitors, or fill out an online enquiry form and we will contact you at a suitable time.

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Hojol Uddin is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Driving Offences department

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