New laws passed last month mean that using a mobile phone while behind the wheel of a car could get you a fine of £200, six penalty points and a possible loss of licence.
But a mobile phone isn’t the only distraction to the modern driver. What about sweets and drinks? Sat navs and music apps? And what about paying for goods and using your phone at a fast-food drive through?
We put our questions to AA public affairs officer Jack Cousens.
Q: Can I check my phone while stationary, like at lights or in a traffic jam?
A: No, regardless of if the phone is docked or not you cannot check the phone. The only time you can do so is parked safely, handbrake on and with the engine off..
Q: Is it legal to make/receive a call via hands-free Bluetooth car system?
A: Yes, as long as the call is made/accepted by voice activation or through the buttons available in the car (within one touch). We recommend that calls are short and to the point to avoid prolonged distraction. Making a short call to a pre-programmed number advising you are running late can be beneficial to road safety as you are then not tempted to speed, overtake on the left etc.
Q: If you involved in an accident and you were on the phone hands-free, can you be prosecuted for the call?
A: If the Police feel that the call distracted you and played a role in causing an accident then you could be charged with not driving with due care and attention/not being in control of the vehicle/careless/dangerous driving.
Q: Most cars have cup holders, but can I drink while driving?
A: Yes, but if your driving is impaired enough for the police to stop you (i.e you are swerving a lot), you could be charged with not being in control of the vehicle/driving without due care and attention/careless/dangerous driving.
Q: What about sweets or snacks? Can I eat crisps, bananas etc while driving?
A: As above.
Q: Where does my phone need to be when I’m driving? Can I have my phone in my pocket, or on the passenger seat? Does it have to be in the glove compartment?
A: We recommend putting the phone somewhere where you won’t be tempted to touch it. If you have the phone in your pocket and it vibrates people are tempted to touch it. Out of sight, out of mind is best.
Q: Can my passenger use their phone and/or take pictures while I’m driving?
A: Yes but they should not distract you as you drive and they shouldn’t show you their screen while you are driving.
Q: Can I use my phone while going through a drive-through fast-food restaurant?
A: No. Although drive throughs are private land, picking up your phone whilst driving through the lane still falls into the law as previously stated. Docked = driving without due care and attention/not being in control of the vehicle/careless/dangerous driving. Not-docked = using a hand-held mobile phone.
Q: Can I use my phone to pay for fast food while in a drive-though?
A: The use of smart phone to pay for items wasn’t anticipated when the hand-held mobile phone regulation was laid. But using the phone to tap&pay should be ok as it’s hard to see how that’s different from finding/handing over card or cash or typing pin on machine. Obviously a sensible driver would stop, put the handbrake on and turn the engine off prior to paying.
Q: Is it legal to smoke while driving?
A: It has been illegal to smoke in a company vehicle since 1 July 2007 and carries a fine of £50. On 1 October 2015 it became illegal to smoke in a vehicle whilst carrying someone under the age of 18. Both the smoker and driver can be fined £50. Both laws do not cover e-cigarettes/vaping.
Q: What about using a sat nav app on your phone?
A: Yes you can, but the phone must be docked and the route pre-programmed before setting off. Pressing one button to accept a message such as “Delays on route, would you like an alternative?” is fine as this is in keeping with a traditional satnav. But if you need to re-program the route fully, you need to stop safely and turn the engine off before doing so.
Q: Can I have my phone in a dashboard cradle and turned on, so I can see it?
A: Yes, but if you want to use it as a means to make/accept calls it must be set up to the vehicle’s Bluetooth system. If you have no intention of using it then it’s best to put it away.
Q: Can I play music in the car from my phone, and change tracks via the screen?
A: No. You should set up your playlist before setting off. You can change tracks through the settings on the car either by buttons or voice activation. If you are scrolling through the phone (not docked) the police will charge you with using a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel. If it’s docked the police could charge you with driving without due care and attention/not being in control of the vehicle.
Q: What about cyclists?
A: It’s not a specific offence to cycle and use a hand held mobile phone but you could be prosecuted for careless or dangerous cycling.
Jack added “We should also be clear that the offence is “Using a hand-held mobile phone” not “using a phone while driving” and that using is simply being seen with it in your hand. The issues above, including using a docked phone could, depending on how you are driving, potentially be classed as “driving without due care and attention”, “not being in control of the vehicle” or in the worst cases “careless/dangerous driving”.
The overriding factor we want to get across to drivers is to minimise distractions as much as possible so they can keep their hands on the wheel and focus on the road ahead. Putting the phone out of sight for a short period of time is the best advice. That text/tweet/snapchat will still be there when you get to your destination.