Mobile Phones and Driving: What is and isn’t Allowed?

The subject of mobile phone use while driving is one of surprisingly heavy debate. Ask a dozen different people what’s actually permitted on UK roads and you’ll probably be presented with 12 entirely different answers.

Despite acknowledging and understanding the dangers of doing so, around one in 10 motorists admit to calling or texting while driving on a regular basis. Of course, this doesn’t include those who do likewise but don’t admit it, which would probably push the figure closer to 50% of drivers.

But given the widespread confusion on the whole subject, what exactly is permitted where driving with mobile phones is concerned?

The Official Stance on Mobile Phone Use While Driving

“Operating a phone, sat nav, tablet, or any device that can send or receive data while driving or riding a motorcycle” is a criminal offence – the whole thing spelled out in simple black-and-white terms by the UK government. 

This means that irrespective of the reason why you are using your device at the time, you are breaking the law by doing so.

Contrary to popular belief, this also applies to pretty much every scenario where you are not in fact ‘driving’ in the conventional sense at the time. Whether you have stopped at traffic lights, found yourself stuck in stationary traffic or driving a car with stop/start technology and the engine is off at the time, it is still 100% illegal to use your phone.

It is also illegal to use a mobile phone (or similar device) loss supervising a learner driver on a provisional licence.

In terms of exceptions, the UK government outlines a few instances where it is permitted to use devices that are normally forbidden. These include:

  • If you have to call the emergency services while driving your car and you cannot find a safe place to stop
  • When parked in a safe and legal location with your car’s engine off, lights off, and handbrake on
  • In order to make a payment for something using a contactless payment method via your phone, such as at a drive-through

Other than these, there are no other specific exclusions to speak of – mobile phone use when driving is completely prohibited.

Can You Use Your Phone As a Sat Nav While Driving?

As for the equally foggy matter of using a mobile phone as a sat nav, the same rules apply. It is forbidden to interact with your sat nav system while driving, in the same way, you cannot legally interact with a mobile phone.

It’s therefore a good idea to ensure that your GPS system is properly set up before you set off, and that you have a decent voice control system activated to make any subsequent adjustments.

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