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New rules for smartphone usage while driving have been introduced in the UK. It means that drivers who hold their phone cannot escape through a loophole which prevented offenders being prosecuted for things like taking a selfie or filming.

Currently, the law only covers people who call or send a text message while behind the wheel. This is set to be updated in Spring 2020 in order to "bring the law into the 21st Century".

Illegal use of a smartphone while driving

The updated legislation means you can now be prosecuted for the following smartphone actions while behind the wheel of a car.

  • Making a phone call
  • Sending a text message (including WhatsApp messaging and emails)
  • Browsing the internet (including social media)
  • Taking photos
  • Filming
  • Scrolling through a playlist

It's also a criminal offence to use a mobile phone while driving without being connected to a hands-free device.

Drivers who break any of the above rules could be hit with a £200 fine and 6 penalty points on their licence - meaning young drivers could lose their licence if caught just once.


The risks of smartphone usage

The laws are now much clearer - you cannot use social media, browse the internet or take a selfie while driving.

Our previous study clearly demonstrates the risk of using a mobile phone while driving, as even taking your eyes off the road for just three seconds in order to check a text message will mean that you've travelled 54 metres (177 feet), or more than three standard bowling lanes.

Taking a selfie is even more fraught with danger - do that at 60 mph and you'll have driven the length of more than six Olympic swimming pools without looking where you're going.

Driving while using a smartphone is extremely dangerous, not only to the offender but to other road users too.

From March 2017 the government introduced tougher penalties for being caught using your phone behind the wheel, doubling the punishment to six penalty points and a £200 fine.

Nonetheless, smartphone usage while driving appears to be on the increase, especially amongst young people. This is particularly bemusing when you consider that six points in the first two years after passing your test will see you lose your licence and unable to drive.

To highlight the extreme danger of this offence, we've visualised just how far the car you're driving travels while you "quickly" check your texts or take a selfie, using popular sports pitches and courts.

These graphics put into perspective the sheer amount of road you'll cover even just by glancing at your phone. See the table at the bottom of the page for a full breakdown of the numbers.

Texting While Driving: Reading

Texting and driving is harmless right? Just a quick check of your WhatsApps and Messenger messages while you're on the move? Wrong.

Though it only takes around four seconds to check a text message, doing that at just 30mph will see you take your eyes off the road for 54 metres - or the length of nearly three standard ten-pin bowling alley lanes.

Check your messages just three times while you're on a national speed limit single carriageway and you'll have travelled more than 320 metres - the length of 17.5 bowling lanes. Strike!

Above figures based on a standard 18.28m ten-pin bowling lane.


Watching an Instagram Story While Driving

There's no reason at all why you should be checking out what your friends are up to on Instagram while you're driving. That doesn't stop people doing it though, such is the modern desperation to keep up with what's happening in the social media world.

A standard single-image Instagram story lasts for five seconds, not including the time it takes to load the app and tap on a story. Even so, doing just that at 50mph will see you travel the length of more than five and a half cricket pitches. Do that on a regular basis and you could easily be caught behind.

A standard cricket pitch is 22 yards (20.12m) in length.

looking at phone whilst driving

Texting While Driving: Writing

Reading a text while driving is bad enough, but replying to your friends and family is fraught with danger.

The average text message is seven words long, and takes about eight seconds to type out. Do that on the motorway at 70mph and you'll have covered the distance of ten and a half Wimbledon tennis courts (250 metres) - a frightening amount of time not to be concentrating on the road.

But it's okay if I'm driving slowly right? Not really, even typing a text at just 20mph will mean you've travelled more than three courts worth of distance.

The tennis courts at Wimbledon are 23.77m in length.

writing a text message

Taking a Selfie While Driving

Seriously, there's no excuse for this - taking a selfie while you're driving is highly illegal and extremely dangerous. If caught, not only will you be charged with using a phone while driving, you could face further police wrath in the form of a driving without due care and attention charge.

#RoadTripSelfie at 60mph? Forget it. Do that and you'll travel more than 320 metres, the length of almost six and a half Olympic swimming pools. That's a serious amount of road to cover without looking where you're going.

An Olympic swimming pool is 50m in length.

Reading an Email While Driving

One for the business professionals amongst you - reading an email on the move is likely just as common as checking text messages, and it's even more dangerous.

On average, it takes 17 seconds to read an email, not taking into account the time it takes to open it. If you're munching the miles on the motorway, reading a single email will mean you cover the distance of five Premier League football pitches without your eyes on the road. That's an own goal if we ever saw one.

Premier League rules state that pitches must be 105m long, unless restricted by the size of the stadium.

reading an email

With all of the above in mind, it's impossible to justify the use of a mobile device while driving. Whatever it is can wait until you've pulled up in a safe place; it just isn't worth the risk to yourself and others to write a text or read an email on the move.

It's recommended by road safety charity THINK! that you make the glove compartment the phone compartment - storing your phone out of sight will make you less likely to be tempted into using it than if it's in your pocket or the centre console. That's something we'd very much recommend.

Next time you reach for your phone when behind the wheel, think again.