Virtually all mobile phone use will be illegal while driving in the UK

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The UK government is to strengthen laws that will make it illegal to use a mobile phone while driving under virtually any circumstance.

It is already an offence to use a mobile phone to make a call or send a text message while behind the wheel, but until now there have been no specific provisions for other instances, such as checking a map application or selecting a playlist.

A public consultation found that four fifths (81%) of people supported a move to tighten the regulations and take into account the development of technology and changing consumer behaviours.

Mobile phone while driving

From next year, drivers will be banned from picking up their device to take photos, play games, or to change audio. If they are caught, they face a £200 fixed penalty notice and six penalty points on their driving licence. The highway code will be updated to make it clear that the law considers sitting in a traffic jam to be driving and therefore the new laws apply when stationary too.

Mobile phones can still be used while driving provided they are secured in a cradle and so can be used “hands free”. This means drivers can still use maps and accept calls provided they don’t pick up their phone.

Other exceptions include contactless payments, allowing drivers to use their device to pay for road tolls or drive thru meals. The law already makes provisions for phone calls to be made while driving in an emergency.

“Too many deaths and injuries occur while mobile phones are being held,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “By making it easier to prosecute people illegally using their phone at the wheel, we are ensuring the law is brought into the 21st century while further protecting all road users.

“While our roads remain among the safest in the world, we will continue working tirelessly to make them safer, including through our award-winning THINK! campaign, which challenges social norms among high-risk drivers.”

Both Apple and Android have developed in-car platforms that allow drivers to use various smartphone applications, such as music, maps, and calls, on their vehicle’s screens. Meanwhile, the cradles that allow mobile phones to be securely positioned have been available for some time.

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.