Illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel
Since 1988 and the Road Traffic Act’s inception there have been significant changes to how that law can cover safety behind the wheel. By 2003 with smartphones and sat nav becoming more and more commonplace an amendment needed to be made to cover such potential usage behind the wheel of a car, van or any vehicle for that matter.
In the 2003 amendment to the act, it is now illegal for someone to use a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel. In particular, it became an offence to send text messages, pictures or use the internet, however, using your phone as a sat nav wasn’t specified as an offence leaving a grey area for motorists who use their smartphone for this purpose.
The law still applies to you if you’re:
- stopped at traffic lights
- queuing in traffic
- supervising a learner driver
So with these new laws enforcing the usage of a hands-free device, where do you stand as to the correct positioning of your sat nav or smartphone and are you allowed to use your phone whilst mounted like this?
Where should I mount my sat nav or smartphone?
With no specific rules about the positioning of a sat nav or smartphone in the car it is unclear as to the best place to put your sat nav or smartphone however according to the Road Vehicle Regulations from 1986 it is an offence to drive without a "full view of the road ahead."
According to a Department for Transport factsheet, when advising on this subject, they follow the standards adhered to when a vehicle has its MoT inspection, splitting the windscreen into zones A and B. Obstructions such as a sat nav or smartphone but can include anything that blocks your view should not encroach more than 10mm within the critical zone A or 40mm for zone B.
Am I allowed to touch my smartphone when being operated as a sat nav?
The 2003 Road Traffic Act update made it illegal to use a hand-held mobile stating “it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function”.
No mention was made of using a sat nav smartphone app, leaving this open for discussion. However, based on the Highway Code, rule 149 states “You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. Using hands-free equipment is also likely to distract your attention from the road.” as well as rule 150 stating “There is a danger of driver distraction being caused by in-vehicle systems such as satellite-navigation systems. Do not be distracted by maps or screen-based information (such as navigation or vehicle management systems) while driving.”
It is best to remember, that at all times full concentration must be given to the task of driving and the road ahead. Using a mobile phone is an offence, so it is better to play it safe and pull over if you need to use your smartphone or sat nav, it is up to individual police officers and the courts to make an informed decision on whether or not you were distracted and not-in-control of your vehicle and although specific laws may not clearly state whether you can or cannot it is never worth the risk to your own life nor other road users.
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