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Mobile Phones and the Law: Be Smarter with your Smartphone

  • John Lewis has stopped selling Satnavs due to lack of demand.  Everyone now has a smartphone.
  • On a survey carried out by the RAC in 2015, one-third of us admitted using a hand-held device while driving.
  • In 2016, the last date when figures are available, there were 36 mobile phone related fatalities.
  • The penalty for mobile phone use when driving was increased in March 2017 to 6 points, and a minimum fine of £200.
  • It is estimated that around £14.6 million in fines are handed down each year.
  • Theresa May has vowed to make mobile phone use by drivers as socially unacceptable as drink driving.
  • South Wales police have set up a SNAP initiative whereby drivers can online report other drivers for mobile phone use.  They are particularly keen on witnesses who can provide dashcam evidence.
  • Throughout the UK, you will start to see road signs which will electronically detect and warn drivers where mobile phones are in use in the vehicle.  The sign will detect when signals are being transmitted by a mobile phone inside a car, and then flash a symbol of a mobile phone with a line through it, to remind drivers not to use a handset.  The scanner can pick up both mobile phone radio signals and Bluetooth signals.  Those using Bluetooth for handsfree connection will not be warned by the sign. 

The Law

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment number 4) Regulations 2003 came into force in December 2003.  They insert Regulation 110 into the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use Regulations) 1986.  Regulation 110 prohibits a person from driving or causing or permitting a person to drive a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a handheld mobile phone or handheld device.  It also prohibits a person from using a handheld mobile phone or handheld device while supervising a learner driver who is driving.

The term “mobile phone” covers cell phones and smartphones.  A phone or device is to be treated as handheld if it is or must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function.  A phone or device will be treated as “in use”, where it is making or receiving a call, or performing any other interactive communication function whether with another person or not.  The particular use to which the phone must be put is not defined as an element of the offence.  The prosecution must simply prove that the phone or the other device was handheld by the person at some point during its use when the person was driving a vehicle on the road.  Under existing caselaw, a person may be regarded as driving while the engine is running, even though the vehicle is stationary.  It is only legal to use a mobile phone when safely parked or in a 999 emergency.

The Conway Commute

  1. Each morning I switch on the ignition and my iPhone at the same time.  Unthinkingly I press the “I’m driving” message because the vehicle is still stationary – Offence - 6 penalty points and £200 fine.
  2. The iPhone is mounted on a cradle on the windscreen. It’s not on Bluetooth.  I receive a call in the course of the journey.  I don’t want to be disturbed while driving and press “Decline” on the phone – Offence - 6 penalty points and £200 fine.
  3. I receive a phone call during the journey.  The phone is now on Bluetooth, and I take the call handsfree using the controls on the steering wheel – no offence.
  4. I am stopped at the lights at the M74 Tradeston offramp.  These lights are notoriously slow.  I have at least 3 minutes of waiting time.  I have the handbrake on, but the engine is running.  I pick up the phone and open the Spotify app.  I am going to have a difficult day on the naughty step in All Scotland Personal Injury Court, and I psych myself up with “Best of Metallica” at high volume.  It transpires that I have been filmed on a front facing dashcam and then reported by the driver behind me, whose attention has been drawn by my head rocking as in “Wayne’s World” – Offence - 6 penalty points and £200 fine.
  5. The suction pad on the windscreen fails, and the phone drops to the floor, interfering with the clutch.  I move it with my foot, (probably no offence committed) but then pick it up and put it in the glove compartment – offence - 6 penalty points and £200 fine.  The Telegraph writer Fraser Nelson was convicted of exactly this offence.
  6. I pick up the phone and dictate an urgent reminder message to myself using the voice dictation function – Offence?  When the well-known tax avoider and comedian Jimmy Carr picked up his mobile phone and dictated a joke reminder to himself, he was found not guilty.  He had not been using the phone for communication purposes.  This is almost certainly wrong – Offence - 6 penalty points and £200 fine.
  7. By the time I have reached the office, I have amassed 30 penalty points and a £1,200 fine.

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