Using mobile phones while driving: what’s legal and what’s not?

It is safest to not use a mobile phone while driving. However, in limited circumstances, it is legally acceptable.

It’s important to be aware of what is legal and illegal use of the phone. If you choose to use your phone legally, we encourage you to consider this advice.

And when we say phones, we also mean some wearable devices, such as Bluetooth connected watches, which perform similar functions to a phone.

What is illegal device use in the car?

It’s illegal for a driver to:

  • hold and use a mobile phone at any time while driving or waiting in a queue of traffic, at an intersection, or at traffic lights
  • create, send or read any type of message while driving
  • email, use social media, video call, browse the internet, play games and take photos/video while driving
  • perform any other activity not specifically listed while holding a mobile phone and driving, including using the phone for navigation or to play music.

These functions are only permitted when legally parked, meaning the vehicle is stopped safely and is not in the flow of traffic. The penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is $80 and 20 demerit points.

What does the law say about using my phone while driving?

It’s been illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving since 2009. That means no texting, taking pics or checking your emails while you’re behind the wheel.

If you do use a mobile phone, for example to take a call or for navigation, the phone must be either:

  • secured in a mounting that is fixed to the vehicle and you can only look at the phone only infrequently and briefly


  • able to be operated without touching any part of the phone, for example using a hands-free kit

Remember: hands-free does not mean risk free. If you’re talking hands-free, you are still more at risk of having a crash than if you’re not talking on the phone at all. This is because the driver using a phone can be distracted by concentrating on the conversation rather than on the road.

If you’re talking hands-free, it is recommended that you:

  • keep the conversion short
  • don’t engage in complex or emotional conversations
  • tell the person on the other end that you are driving and may have to end the call abruptly
  • end the call if it's distracting you from driving.

What is driver distraction?

Driving needs your full attention. Driver distraction is a serious road safety issue. Essentially, anything that diverts a driver's attention for more than two seconds can significantly increase the likelihood of a crash or near-crash.

Legal phone use, even by very experienced drivers, can still be distracting and can increase the risk of a crash.

Check out this video to learn more about driver distraction:

Best practice while driving:

Do not use a phone at all. Let calls go to voicemail and do not respond to any message you receive. Only use the phone if you pull over and park safely. This is the safest choice and allows you to respond fully once you’re parked.

Use an app or function like ‘Do not disturb while driving’ mode activated on your phone. Text messages and other notifications are silenced or limited, but you can still play music and get navigation assistance.

If you decide to use your phone legally:

  • use it on a hands-free device/mounting – while this is practical it still carries risk
  • use it only for navigation (enter the destination before you drive) or as a music source (set it up before you drive).

What is 2degrees doing to promote safe use of phones?

To encourage Kiwis to use their phones safely while driving, we’ve partnered with Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) to remind drivers about the importance of remaining safe when behind the wheel and encourage better habits when using a mobile device.

The partnership also includes our telco friends Vodafone and Spark, as well as New Zealand Police and Auckland Transport. All of which have the same focus on making our roads a safer place.

We know that it’s safest not to use a phone at all while driving. Unfortunately, the reality is that phone use by drivers is commonplace in New Zealand, but many of these uses are dangerous and illegal.

As a starting point, the working group has developed a fact sheet which highlights the legal and illegal use of phones in cars to better equip drivers with the knowledge around driver distraction.

Download the fact sheet for legal mobile phone use while driving and share it with your friends, family and workmates.

Related articles