New driving and mobile phone laws for 2021

Driving laws in the UK are regularly updated, and it’s down to drivers to make sure they keep on top of what has changed.

One law around driving we are all aware of is that it’s illegal to use a mobile phone to call or text while you’re behind the wheel. It’s distracting, dangerous and can put people’s lives at risk – get caught, and you will face six penalty points and a £200 fine, notes the Gov.UK website.

In serious cases, drivers can also be banned from driving and receive a fine of up to £2,000.

If you have committed this offence in the past, or have been convicted of any other offence – motoring related or not – then you may need specialist cover before you get back on the road. Certain providers could refuse to insure you, or they may raise your premium to the point that it’s unaffordable. That’s not the case with the Insurance Factory.

We understand the past is the past and we never judge. Instead, we’ll consider your individual case and search our panel of selected providers to arrange convicted driver insurance for a competitive price.

Mobile phones and driving – what’s changing in 2021?

The law around mobile phone use at the wheel was introduced back in 2003. At that time, phones were used mostly for making calls and sending texts – they were nowhere near as advanced as the all-singing, all-dancing smartphones we use today.

The 2003 law banned ‘interactive communication’, which meant calls and texts. But interactive communication doesn’t include activities like taking pictures, recording videos, selecting songs or scrolling through social media. So, drivers caught doing these things could get away with it and not be committed of a driving offence.

Of course, if you’re on your phone selecting music or taking a picture while driving, this is just as distracting as speaking to someone on the phone. And this is exactly why the loophole is finally being closed in 2021 and the law updated to suit modern smartphones and the way in which they are used today.

As the Gov.UK website explains, people using a hand-held mobile phone in any circumstance while driving will be breaking the law.

The website cites research into driver behaviour in the UK, commissioned by the Department for Transport and conducted by the University of Leeds. Researchers examined footage of 51 drivers and discovered that over 765 journeys, 662 mobile phone interactions were observed with just 38 of them being hands-free.
At 30mph, a car moves 100 feet in just 2.3 seconds – that means that even just a split-second lapse from switching songs or checking a map could lead to a crash.

The updated law will ‘bolster police powers’ to tackle this type of driver behaviour and improve road safety across the board.

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Roads Policing, said: “Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.
“Police will take robust action against those using a hand-held mobile phone illegally.”

Many industry bodies have welcomed the update, including the AA. President Edmund King OBE commented: “There’s no excuse for picking up a mobile phone when driving so we’re pleased this loophole will be closed. Phones do so much more than calls and texts, so it’s only right that the law is changed to keep pace with technology. Tweets, TikTok and Instagram snaps can all wait until you park up.

“These new rules will clarify the law and help drivers realise that this dangerous act can have the same consequences and be as socially unacceptable as drink driving. If you cannot resist the temptation to pick up your phone, then you should convert your glove box into a phone box.”

King makes a very good point. If you’re someone who is easily distracted by their phone, then it’s best to remove the distraction altogether. Switch it to silent and store it out of sight – in the glovebox or in your bag.

What about hands-free?

There were calls to ban hands-free functions on phones, but they were rejected by ministers. This means that drivers can carry on safely using devices hands-free when they are behind the wheel, such as a sat nav secured in a cradle. Hands-free access includes:
  • Bluetooth headsets
  • Voice command
  • Dashboard holder or mat
  • Windscreen mount
  • Built-in sat nav
If you plan to use your mobile phone as a sat nav, the holder must not block your view of the road and traffic in front.

It really goes without saying, but you need to stay in full control of your car at all times. The police have the power to pull you over if they think that you are distracted and you could face prosecution. Also, bear in mind that the law applies even if you are stopped at traffic lights, are queueing in traffic or supervising a learner driver.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. The Gov.UK website notes that you can use a hand-held phone if you’re safely parked, or if you need to phone 999 or 112 in an emergency situation and it’s either unsafe or impractical to stop.

Recognising that mobile phones are regularly used to make payments at places such as drive-thrus, another exemption will apply to contactless payments, provided the car is stationary, and so long as the services or goods (such as a takeaway meal) are delivered straight away.

Convicted driver insurance from the Insurance Factory

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  • Driving without insurance
  • Driving in a dangerous manner
  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol
  • Driving at a dangerous speed
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  • Non-motoring convictions
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