Driving to Distraction


The penalty handed to drivers caught using a mobile phone whilst driving doubled last week to an obligatory 6 point endorsement and a minimum £200 fine.

The act of driving on a road whilst using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held device has been an offence since 2003 and is punishable under section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

A mobile phone or other device is deemed to be hand held if it is actually held or it must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call, or of performing any other “interactive communication function”. An “interactive communication function” is not defined but it does include sending or receiving messages, pictures or accessing the internet.

Whilst it is not an offence to use a phone or other hand-held device if it is fully hands-free, the device cannot be picked up, even momentarily, whilst the vehicle is moving.

The only exemption under the law applies where a driver is able demonstrate the following: (1) the call is to an emergency service using 112 or 999 (2) the caller is acting in response to a genuine emergency and (3) it is unsafe or impracticable to cease driving.

Under the road traffic legislation, driving includes being stationary in a traffic jam and, as a result, drivers could still face a penalty for using a mobile phone where it is clear that the vehicle is going to be stationary for some time.

The increased sentence will be most severe for a “new driver”. The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 established a two-year probationary period for newly qualified drivers and the accumulation of six or more penalty points during this period results in the revocation of a “new driver’s” licence and a requirement to pass another driving test in order to restore previous entitlements.

More experienced motorists can lose their licence if they receive 12 points in a three-year period; just two mobile phone incidents under the change in the law.

In particularly serious cases of using a mobile phone behind the wheel, a driver could be taken to court where the maximum fine is £2,000, and disqualification is at the Court’s discretion.

It is clear from the rise in penalties over the years that driving offences involving mobile phones are being treated ever more seriously. Driving whilst using a mobile phone is now cited as an example of careless driving and the Government is currently considering increasing the punishment where death and serious injuries are caused as a result.


Charlotte Watts