The Government has announced its intention to close a legal loophole that enables drivers to escape prosecution for using a mobile phone while driving to film or take photos.
Presently, it is illegal to use a “hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held device for the purpose of any interactive communication” while driving. This means you must not make or receive calls nor send or view text messages while driving. However, it does mean that taking photos or filming while driving is technically not illegal. A recent case brought the issue to the fore; Ramsey Barreto overturned a conviction for filming a crash saying he was not using his phone for communication purposes.
The government intends to close this loophole by amending the rules to include browsing the internet, searching playlists, taking photos, filming etc. Basically, if you so much as touch your phone while driving you will be committing an offence.
How many of us still use a mobile phone while driving?
According to research by the RAC, around a quarter of motorists admit to making or receiving calls on their mobile phone while driving. This figure increases among the younger population with over 50% of 17 to 25-year olds saying they have used their mobile phone at the wheel. The Government is trying to change this attitude and to make the use of a mobile phone at the wheel as unacceptable as drink driving.
What is clear, is that in modern day society we have a huge reliance on our phones. More and more of us work away from the office and see the car as an alternative place of work. Add to that the need to be ‘on-call’ 24/7 and it is perhaps not surprising that we are over reliant on our phones – even when we know we shouldn’t be using them. Motoring and road safety organisations suggest we should place any phone in the glove compartment to avoid the temptation to look at incoming communication. However, we are now so reliant on our phones, many see this as an unrealistic ask.
The hard statistics show that there were 683 casualties on Britain’s roads in 2018 where use of a mobile phone by the driver was a contributory factor. These include 29 deaths and 118 serious injuries. This is one of the reasons why the penalties for using a mobile phone at the wheel were increased in 2017.
Penalties for using mobile phone while driving
Currently, if you are caught using a mobile phone while driving you face a fixed penalty of six points on your licence and a £200 fine. This increased from three points and a £100 fine in 2017.
The police have the power to stop you if they believe you have been distracted by using a mobile phone while driving, even if it’s fully hands-free.
Must the phone be in a cradle?
If, at any point, you hold your phone or device to make or receive a call whilst driving, you are committing an offence. So, putting the phone in a cradle is a sensible option. Even before the new rules come into force, it is advisable to not handle your phone whilst driving.
What about Sat Nav and listening to music?
If you are using the phone for satellite navigation purposes, you must make sure it is fully set up before you depart and placed in a suitable cradle. You should not touch your phone to adjust the sat nav whilst driving. Equally, if you are using your phone to listen to music it should be set up before departure. Do not scroll though your playlist whilst driving.
Enforcing the new rules
The revised legislation is expected to be put in place by the spring of 2020. Of course, any new rules will only be effective if they are enforced. Currently, there is an absence of technology to catch those using a phone at the wheel. Add to that a decline in the number of police officers, and it could mean that there is less of a chance of a driver being caught than in previous years.
Highways England will be conducting early trial with technology to detect mobile usage together with roadside high-definition cameras. These automatically take pictures of drivers using their phones. The images are then sent to police and the vehicle’s owner is issued with a notice of intended prosecution in the same was as speeding penalties. A similar scheme trialled in Australia caught 100,000 drivers in a six-month period.
Caught using your mobile phone at the wheel?
Have you been accused of using your mobile phone at the wheel? Have you been involved in a road accident where the police believe mobile phone use was a contributing factor? Contact Wells Burcombe’s motoring crime defence team for expert advice and support. We have offices in West Drayton, London and St Albans, Hertfordshire and cover all surrounding areas. Call us on 01895 449288 or contact us by email.