The law punishes drivers for using a phone – but is it hitting home?

We quizzed five drivers about their phone habits

5 minutes

Have tougher penalties reduced our phone usage while we're behind the wheel? Five drivers share their thoughts. 

  • A £200 fine and six points if caught using a phone at the wheel
  • Motorists reveal how they've changed their driving habits
  • Some drivers are still unaware of the laws

Will new laws discourage drivers from using their phones?

In 2016, the government raised the penalties for using your phone at the wheel to an on-the-spot fine of £200, plus six points on your licence. What's more, the cost of your car insurance would likely go up too.

Road safety experts from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents say that using either a hand-held or hands-free phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash. But people are still using their phones at the wheel – whether it's to send a message, check a notification or even make a call. 

Prime Minister Theresa May has called on a cultural change, where using your phone at the wheel is considered as bad as drink driving. But are the laws enough to curb Britain's car phone use? Motoring journalist Simon Heptinstall (@sheptinstall) spoke to five drivers across the country to find out.

Oliver, businessman, London

The penalties made a difference to me; I needed that extra deterrent because the technology is so compulsive. It's sometimes like I have this addictive need to communicate.

Years ago, I was driving through a town looking for a friend's house and called him for directions. I was doing about 20mph when along came a copper. I barely knew it was an offence at the time. It was like a parking ticket with a £30 fine. I was a bit miffed.

Later, I thought about what I'd done and realised it was ridiculous. Since then I've really tried to resist using the phone in the car. In London, I've become a zealot about anyone I see doing it. I make signs to tell them to get off the phone, even though people get angry at me when I do.

The penalties are an additional reason for drivers like me to resist. There's clearly multiple phone usage on our roads and somehow it must change.

Anna, author, Halifax

Living among twisty country roads and spending a lot of time walking them, I loathe this behaviour with a passion – I see drivers notice me at the last minute because they're too engrossed on their mobiles.

I'm in total support of the penalties. It makes me feel safer, and they don't affect me when I'm driving because I make sure my phone is somewhere I can't hear it, which removes the temptation. Can there be any calls worth the risk of causing an accident? Tougher penalties seem the only way to force the message home.

Sian, HR manager, Wiltshire

The increase to the penalty brought home to me how dangerous it is to use your mobile while driving – I now deem it a complete no-no.

In the past, I've been guilty of making hand-held calls, but in the last couple of years I have had Bluetooth in the car so I don't have to touch my phone.

I confess I might have sneakily sent a text if I was stuck in traffic before, as my phone was always to hand. With the new laws, I've decided to make sure my phone's out of reach, like in my handbag – sometimes I even put it in the boot.

Claire, paramedic, Kent

Being a paramedic, I've seen what can happen if someone uses the phone at the wheel. I once treated a girl who had been texting while driving. Her car veered off the road into a ditch at high speed. Luckily, she was relatively unscathed and didn't take anyone else out – it could have been much worse. 

I do a lot of driving outside of work, but make sure I have Bluetooth so I can answer on hands-free. The new perception of using a phone at the wheel hasn’t changed what I do, but I'm hoping they will make other people think twice.

Tracey, shop owner, Devon

The large fines are, I hope, acting as a deterrent and helping save lives. I must confess, however, that I made a very quick phone call while stationary in a traffic jam on the M6 to tell my brother that I would be terribly late.

I've only learned by doing this interview that it wasn't legal, as I didn't know the law still applied when you are stationary – I certainly won't do it again. With these new penalties and all the publicity there really is no excuse, so I'll pull in at a service station instead.


Are people now less likely to use a phone at the wheel?

It's no small task to persuade the UK's population, who collectively check their smartphones over a billion times a day, to ignore their mobile while driving.

But the focus on stopping people using their phone at the wheel is having an impact, whether it's making people more aware of the potential dangers, or even bringing their attention to the regulations in the first place.