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The Highway Code: Everything you need to know about new rules regarding the use of mobile phones when driving

By Carla Jordan, an expert serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell

Changes to the Code

There have been a number of changes made to The Highway Code already this year aimed at improving road safety. These came into effect at the end of January.

However, further changes came into force on 25 March, 2022, in relation to the use of mobile phones behind the wheel of a car outlined as in Rule 149 of The Highway Code.

The changes to the legislation has closed a long-standing loophole that allowed motorists to escape punishment for using mobile phones at the wheel. A zero-tolerance approach has now been adopted, with the updated rules making almost all hand-held use and touching of a mobile phone while driving illegal. 

The previous rules

The use of mobile phones to call and text while driving has been banned since 2003. In 2019, it was ruled in the High Court that an offence was committed when a mobile was used for an "interactive communication function". However, there was a grey area in The Highway Code as it failed to include other uses of a mobile.

The recent updates to the rules have been made to keep up to date with technological advancements and to reflect the wide range of functions of modern smartphones.

What are the changes to the law?

Under the changes that came into force in March, it's now an offence to use a mobile phone or other handheld device for 'non-connected mobile usage'. This includes, but is not limited to, unlocking the device, checking the time, checking notifications, checking emails, rejecting a call, taking photos or videos, voice noting, searching through music playlists and playing a game.

This has effectively made it illegal for drivers to touch their phone screen for any reason at all while they are behind the wheel of their vehicle.

The law still applies even if a motorist is stopped at traffic lights, queuing in traffic, driving a car that turns off the engine when stopped or holding and using a device that’s offline or in flight mode

It's not only drivers who are subject to these new rules, passengers supervising a driver who is learning may also face prosecution if they touch their mobile phone.


There are exemptions to the new changes. A mobile device can be used if 999 is to be called in an emergency and it's unsafe or impractical to stop. 

Motorists are also permitted to use their phones to pay at a drive-thru restaurant or a road or bridge toll. The vehicle must be stationary and the item being paid for must be provided at the same time or shortly after the payment has been made. This will only apply when payment is being made with a card reader. It will not allow motorists to make general online payments while driving.

Drivers will still be allowed to use their mobile phone for hand-free calls and as a sat nav, provided that it is fixed in a cradle. The mobile, however, must not block the view of the road and traffic ahead. Devices can also be used when the vehicle is safely parked.


Anyone caught using a mobile phone device, either a driver or passenger supervising a driver, in breach of the new rules will face a £200 fixed fine, plus six points added to their licence.

For newly qualified drivers who have passed their test within the last two years, six points would result in their driving licence being revoked.

If the case were to go to court, motorists could receive a maximum £1,000 fine and could be disqualified from driving for a period of time.

Mobile phones causing road traffic collisions

The use of a mobile phone is extremely dangerous and has been a growing problem of driver distraction, which can put all road users at risk.  Distracted driving is the second leading cause of collisions after drunk driving.

Road safety campaigners THINK! has commissioned research which indicates that motorists are four times more likely to be involved in a crash if using a mobile phone. The reaction time of a driver is three times slower when using a hand-held device and even when using hands-free equipment the reaction time is still two times slower. A car being driven at 30mph travels around three car lengths in one second. A split-second lapse in concentration could result in a crash.


The changes to The Highway Code are considered long overdue as there have been many campaigns for tighter mobile phone legislation over the years. 

At Irwin Mitchell we welcome these changes where they reduce the risk of serious injury or death on our roads.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by collisions at our dedicated road traffic accidents section.

The changes to The Highway Code are considered long overdue as there have been many campaigns for tighter mobile phone legislation over the years.

At Irwin Mitchell we welcome these changes where they reduce the risk of serious injury or death on our roads.”