The introduction of stricter laws around touching a mobile phone at the wheel mean motorists who handle their devices are no longer able to make excuses to avoid fines of £200 and six points.
The addition of this type of driving offence on your record will also have a big impact on insurance premiums.
A driver who is convicted of using their phone at the wheel can expect to see their premiums rise on average by 55 per cent – which translates to around £370 a year, according to insurer Admiral.
This would ultimately push the typical annual policy cost beyond £1,000.
Insurance impact of being caught on the phone behind the wheel: With stricter laws on using a device while driving, motorists can expect their premiums to rise 55% for this type of offence
Admiral calculated the rise in insurance premium for motorists based on data for customers with a new CU80 driving conviction – the code denoting being caught on the phone – when they renewed their motor insurance policies last year.
The average insurance premium in February 2022 was £673, according to comparison website Compare the Market.
A 55 per cent rise would ultimately push an average policy up to £1,040.
In a worst case scenario, Admiral claims a mobile phone offence on a licence can increase the cost of insurance by 86 per cent.
Of all the most common new convictions policyholders declared, driving while being on the phone was among the top ten, the insurer said.
The insurer’s statistics also showed that four in five of drivers declaring a CU80 on their driving record in 2021 were men.
Three quarters of Admiral customers who had been convicted of using their phone while driving were also under 45 years of age.
As for locality, Southend and the SS postcode area was the one with the highest number of CU80 offences, based on the insurer’s own data.
Belfast, Glasgow, Chelmsford and and Edinburgh made up the top five, suggesting the problem is strong in South Essex and the major Scottish cities, though the insurer will not declare exact numbers for market competition reasons.
Clare Egan, head of notor at Admiral, said: ‘We found that men are far more likely to receive a motoring conviction for using a mobile phone – of the customers that declared this conviction, 80 per cent were male.
‘We also found that younger drivers were more likely to be receive a conviction for using a mobile phone – 75 per cent of customers that notified us of their conviction were under 45 years old.
‘More motorists aged between 26 and 35 had a conviction, than any other age group, accounting for 41 per cent of those who informed us last year.
‘To ensure their policy information is correct, drivers should be honest about any previous motoring offences and penalty points they’ve received, as it could affect their cover if they don’t tell their insurer.’
Stricter laws on using a phone while driving: Motorists face a minimum £200 fine and six points if they are caught handling their device as of this month
Since Friday 25 March, handling a phone in any way, from touching the screen to scroll a music playlist, browse the internet, take a photograph or play a mobile game is strictly prohibited, and these rules apply when stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic.
The only exceptions are for making calls to emergency services when there is no safe place to pull over and to use contactless payments like Apple Pay at fast-food drive-throughs and to pay tolls, while hands-free calls are also still permitted.
Drivers are still allowed to use their phones as sat-navs if they are secured in a mount on the windscreen – though you can still be punished if the police believe a driver is distracted while touching a device in a cradle.
The Department for Transport also warns that fines can escalate as high as £1,000 and motorists could receive a driving ban in worst cases.
Announcing the new laws at the end of last week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘I will do everything in my power to keep road-users safe, which is why I am taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who decide to risk lives by using their phone behind the wheel.
‘I’m ensuring anyone who chooses to break this vital law can face punishment for doing so, and we’ll continue our efforts to ensure our roads remain among the safest in the world.’
Ministers have been pushing to make changes to these laws to close a loophole that has allowed motorists to escape punishment for using devices while at the wheel.
Previously, drivers could only be penalised for holding their phone while making ‘interactive communications’, which specifically only outlawed making phone calls or sending text messages.
Many have successfully argued that they had been holding their device for something other than an interactive communications, for instance watching a video or changing the music track being played in the vehicle.
While a £200 fine and 6 penalty points is the minimum punishment, the DfT says fines can escalate as high as £1,000 and motorists could receive a driving ban in worst cases
A recent round of research by the RAC found 43 per cent of drivers it has just polled aren’t aware of the new zero-tolerance rules that have been introduced, while just 2 per cent believe it will be ‘very effective’ in improving driver behaviour.
While most of the 2,000 drivers surveyed (75 per cent) said they are supportive of the change in the law, many are sceptical as to how effective it will be in getting offending drivers to change their actions and make the roads safer.
Almost half said the tougher sanctions on offending drivers will be ‘partly effective’, though 45 per cent said it won’t have an impact on the number of motorists handling their devices at the wheel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps previously said the changes would make it easier to prosecute drivers who ignore the rules. ‘Too many deaths and injuries occur whilst mobile phones are being held,’ he said
Rod Dennis, from the RAC, said: ‘While we welcome the law change and very much hope it will make a difference, it’s arguable that it will only be truly effective if it’s rigorously enforced.
‘If some drivers still don’t feel they’re likely to be caught, then simply making the law tougher isn’t going to have the desired effect of making our roads safer.’
Enforcement of these laws will lie with the police, though they could soon have additional help from new ‘spy-in-the-sky’ technology if these advanced technologies are used in the future.
Highways England has trialled the use of these high-definition cameras that can take pictures of motorists through their windscreens.
In theory, these could be fitted to overhead gantries with offending drivers sent prosecution notices in the same way as speeding tickets. But there is no sign so far of this being rolled out.
Mr Dennis added: ‘The dial really needs to be turned up when it comes to enforcement, and that means police forces having the resources and technology they need to more easily catch those drivers that continue to flout the law.
‘Cameras that can automatically detect handheld phone use exist and are in use in other countries, so we think it’s high time the UK Government evaluated this technology with a view to allowing police forces to deploy it at the earliest opportunity.’
To raise awareness of the new penalties, the Government has launched an £800,000 THINK! campaign, which will feature across various social media platforms as well as radio until the end of April.
Commenting on the new rules, Edmund King, AA president, said: ‘The AA has long campaigned to make hand-held mobile phone use whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink driving and we warmly welcome the new law.
‘This is a much needed toughening of the rules to help make our roads safer.
‘Those that believe that they can still play with their phone because it’s in a cradle must think again – they leave themselves open to prosecution for either careless or dangerous driving.
‘The best thing to do is to convert your glovebox into a phone box. We all need to keep our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road.’
Do the new laws cover touching a phone that’s in a secure cradle or mount like the one pictured? We asked the Department for Transport to explain…
Do the new rules apply if you’re touching your phone that’s secured in a cradle or mount on the windscreen or dashboard of your car?
When the new rules were announced last year, the DfT said in a statement: ‘Drivers will still be able to continue using a device ‘hands-free’ while driving, such as a sat-nav, if it’s secured in a cradle.
‘They must, however, always take responsibility for their driving and can be charged with an offence if the police find them not to be in proper control of their vehicle.’
But what about if a driver has their phone secured in a cradle but is touching it to start or stop a video recording, check notifications or simply to see the time?
A DfT spokesman told This is Money: ‘The new updates to the law covers hand-held mobile phone use only.’
He added: ‘However, there are multiple distinct offences which could apply when a driver is distracted by using a phone in a cradle – and would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
‘Where a driver uses a mobile phone but does not at any point while driving pick it up, that activity is covered by wider road traffic law regarding distraction.
‘As with any other form of distraction, the police could take enforcement action if they consider that the driver’s level of driving has suffered.’
This means it will be up to the discretion of the police to determine what level of enforcements is taken if a driver is judged to have been distracted by operating their phone in a mount.
While drivers will likely not face any action if they’re making adjustments to their navigation route, if they are deemed to be too distracted by their devices for any of the new reasons listed above they could face tougher sanctions.
The new updates to the law cover hand-held mobile phone use only. But if you’re distracted by a phone in a cradle, you could still face penalties
The DfT told us that a motorist distracted from their driving duties because they were touching a phone secured in a cradle could be punished by one of three increasing offence types:
- The lowest level is ‘not in proper control of the vehicle‘ under Regulation 104 of the Road Traffic (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. This carries the threat of three penalty points and the risk of maximum fines up to £1,000.
- The next tier for punishment would fall under ‘careless driving‘ under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, with penalties of unlimited fines, potential disqualification and between 3 and 9 points depending on severity.
- The most serious cases of distraction could be deemed ‘dangerous driving‘ under Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act, which has the highest punishment of two years’ imprisonment, unlimited fines and likely disqualification with between 3 and 11 penalty points.
While these all represent worst-case punishments, how – and if – touching a phone in a secured mount can be enforced is a totally different matter.
Entry-level cars at the lower end of the market have dedicated smartphone cradles instead of built-in infotainment screens. Owners need to download a specific app that connects to the car (and the steering wheel controls, for example) and can then use the device as a sat-nav
This is especially the case now that various car makers are promoting using this type of technology.
Many brands offer their cheapest entry models with smartphone docking stations instead of expensive built-in infotainment screens. Customers are then expected to use a dedicated app on their device to access the car’s radio settings, sat-nav and other functions.
It’s also worth noting that a phone cradle must be positioned on the windscreen so that it does not block the driver’s view of the road and traffic ahead.
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