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Last Updated: Monday, 1 December 2003, 01:48 GMT
The highway dialling code
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online Magazine

A new law has come into force banning drivers from using mobile phones while at the wheel. Only it's not quite as straightforward as that...

Traffic police are going to have their work cut out from 1 December, as new laws come into effect clamping down on drivers using mobile phones.

A quarter of drivers who know about the law will ignore it, according to research by a mobile headset manufacturer, Jabra. The same survey found 40% of motorists were unaware of the new legislation, which is designed to promote safety on the road.

On top of that, among those that are aware, there is widespread confusion about what exactly is outlawed.

Initially, the government had sought a blanket ban on all drivers using mobiles. Then it seemed to opt for an exception that would allow factory-fitted hands-free sets.

The final legislation is more relaxed, but that has led to claims it is too confusing. So here, we answer 10 questions about what you will and will not be allowed to do while driving.

Motorists must already drive with due care and attention
New law will allow police to stop driver using a mobile, no matter how careful they are
Breaking the rules means a 30 on-the-spot fine or up to 1,000 in court

Can I use my ordinary mobile handset?
"Hand-held" is the watchword in the new regulations. If you need to hold your mobile handset then you will be in breach of the new law and liable for a 30 on the spot fine.

What about hands-free kit?
Using hands-free equipment will not be an exception, if you still have to hold the mobile handset to dial a number or even just to press the "receive call" button when someone is ringing you.

So I have to get a factory fitted mobile?
No, a cradle that holds your mobile and is fixed to the dashboard will do the job. You will need a hands-free kit to continue the conversation, such as an earpiece and microphone or a Bluetooth headset. Interactive PDAs and navigation aids will also need cradles. Using a hands-free device with voice dialling and auto-answering would also be appropriate.

Keep calls short - do not argue or enter intense negotiations
Tell callers you are driving and may need to break off your conversation suddenly
Save any numbers you may need to a shortcut dial before starting your journey
Source: RAC
What if I cradle the phone on my shoulder?
Propping a mobile between your shoulder and chin will not be tolerated since you will still seen as holding the phone, albeit not with your hands.

What about texting?
Texting is also out, although it seems tapping out a text would be allowed if the phone remained fixed in a cradle. But this is likely to fall foul of the existing rules that you must drive with due care and attention.

So do I have to switch my phone off?
No. Phones can be left on in a car, but, unless you have hands-free kit, if you are driving when it rings you must ignore it or pull in and park safely before answering it.

What if I'm waiting at traffic lights?
You are still considered to be driving. The same goes for if you are stuck in a traffic jam. In really bad snarl ups, however, you would clearly not thought to be driving if your engine was turned off.

Driver with Bluetooth headset
Bluetooth headsets do away with distracting wires
What about an emergency call?
There is an exemption for 999/112 calls to the emergency services where it is unsafe or impractical to stop.

I've got to use a phone for my job
Not good enough. You will still be liable for a penalty. If your boss has insisted you take calls while driving he or she could also be breaking the law.

Breaker, breaker... what about CB radio?
Curiously perhaps, two-way radio is not covered by the law, so it's not an offence to have a conversation while driving, using a hand-held CB radio microphone. Two-way radios that double up as mobiles will not be allowed, though.

Some of your comments so far:

I welcome the new law and as a hands-free user already I have already been safe for some time, but the government also needs to look at banning smoking at the wheel. A smoker has to use one hand to smoke and this distracts their concentration.
Matthew Dudley, UK

There should be a proper advertising campaign to educate people rather than relying on the media alone.
Simon W, UK

Does it cover someone else holding the phone to your ear?
Bradley Sawkins, UK

This is excellent! About time, and for all those whiners who'll complain about their rights, maybe you should have thought about that before driving like idiots with no concern for anyone else on the roads.
Jason Miles, UK

Um, did I miss a bunch of big signs warning about this? I remember it being suggested, but haven't seen any official "YOU MAY NOT USE YOUR MOBILE FROM DECEMBER" posters. Or even anything sent with my last tax disc/insurance/MOT
Peter Collinson, UK

Another technical offence, created purely to raise revenue and harass motorists for daring to want to use the roads they paid for. Everybody sees examples of appalling driving every day. Police ignore them because these technical offences are much more convenient for them.
Ray Gray, England

A long time in coming. I've lost count of the times I have had to take corrective action because some moron was trying to drive whilst making a phone call. I even saw one idiot making a "video" call while driving along at 50mph.
Andrew L, UK

Like many people I use a wire based hands-free on my phone but can make and receive calls by saying "answer" and so forth without touching the handset. Would this be good enough to dodge the legislation?

If I use my auto-answering mobile with a hands-free wire only to receive calls could I still be found to be in breach of the law?

I think it's about time this legislation has come - it will definitely save lives.
Dr Elizabeth Emerson, UK

I totally support this law. I witnessed one of my colleagues being knocked down and injured, on a pelican crossing, by a driver who jumped the red light while using a mobile phone.
John Murray,Chester, UK

This law is ridiculous. I wish common sense would prevail once in a while. There's no reason why making a quick call, whilst driving an automatic car and using a hands free kit should be unsafe or illegal. It is no more dangerous than tuning your radio
Guillermo Power, UK

Well, if it stops the various bus drivers I've had the "pleasure" of travelling with talking on their mobiles whilst in charge of a vehicle with 20-30 people on board, I'm all for it.
Rachel, UK

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