Can I use my mobile phone at traffic lights?

Car waiting at traffic lights at dusk in a town.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 12 April 2021

Learn whether it's legal to use your mobile phone when you're driving. We explain The Highway Code rules and give you strategies for a safe, legal journey.

Red, amber, phone!

Today, I heard a worrying tale about a woman who thought it was OK to use her phone when she was stopped at traffic lights. Apparently, she did this so often that, when the police caught up with her, she blurted out:

‘But, I’ve often made calls at traffic lights and it’s never been a problem before.’

This is one of those classic road safety misunderstandings. Let’s look at rule 149 of The Highway Code, which says that:

You MUST NOT use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, when driving or when supervising a learner driver, except to call 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop.

So far, so good, but the woman in our story was not driving, was she? Well yes, actually, she was.

Plenty of people think it’s OK to use a mobile phone if the car they’re driving is stuck in a queue or has stopped at traffic lights, but that’s not true. It’s still illegal, and it could still land you in a lot of hot water with the police.

Remember, the law applies whether you’ve stopped or you’re moving. Unless you’re parked in a safe place with the engine switched off, if you use your mobile in the car you’re breaking the law!

Mobile moan

OK, so you’re probably thinking that your blog team are banging on about this a bit too much, but it really does matter. Check out this article from the BBC about tougher penalties for using your mobile at the wheel.

Think about the damage you could cause when your phone distracts you. Even if you take nothing else away from these articles, just stop and think about how much it could damage your future if you get caught using your phone.

If you’re an experienced driver, the hit is six penalty points and a £200 fine.

That’s pretty bad, but it’s gets a whole lot worse if you've only passed your test in the last two years. As well as probably getting penalty points and a fine, you’ll lose your licence. Then you’ll have to take both your theory test and your practical test again to get it back.

Do you really want to go through all that again? And how are you going to explain to your friends, your employer or your parents that you’ve lost your licence? Or, worse, that you’ve killed someone – possibly a child – because you did not have the self-control to leave your phone alone?

Put it away

To make sure it never happens, make this your golden rule: whenever you get in your car, switch off your phone and put it somewhere that you cannot see it or reach for it. It does not matter where – glove box, coat pocket, boot – as long as it’s out of the way. You really can wait for that call or text – it’s not worth the hassle, the fines, the lost licence or the guilt and consequences if you kill or injure another road user through distracted driving.

A phone place to learn more

For those of you who fancy learning more, there’s some useful information in our shop.

If you find yourself tempted to look at your phone while you’re driving then you can find out more about the effects of distraction, and how to avoid getting distracted, in The Official DVSA Guide to Better Driving. It’s full of guidance that will help you to understand the ‘mental’ side of driving safely, like dealing with stress, anger or nerves when you’re behind the wheel.

You can also find some interesting theories about inattentional blindness when using your phone in one of our other blog posts.

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