Mobile phone law must be changed, says Transport Committee

Posted 01/11/2019 : By: Tim Ridyard

The House of Commons investigation into the use of mobile phones and other devices whilst driving has published its recommendations, writes Tim Ridyard of Ashtons Legal.

The main proposal, accepted by the Government, is that there should be created a new definition of the offence of driving while using a mobile phone or other device….

 ‘so that it covers all hand-held usage, irrespective of whether this involves sending or receiving data.’

We wrote about the problems of roadside enforcement following the DPP v Barreto case in our blog. This explained when an offence is and is not committed as a matter of law, highlighting how the police need to show not only that the phone or other device is being ‘used’ but also that the usage involves ‘interactive communication’. In Barreto, the driver had been using the phone to film an accident and in another decided case a driver was using a device to select pre-loaded music. In both cases the court decided there was no actual ‘mobile phone offence’ on those occasions. The two cases reflected how the original legislation was drafted when mobile devices had more limited uses, unlike those today.

So, it is intended that there be a redrafting of the law:

 ‘to ensure that the offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving reflects the real world where smartphones or devices are used not only for calls and texting (interactive communication) but also for scrolling playlists, photos, or drafting emails (standalone functions).’ 

When this occurs it will remove the need for police to prove both usage and that interactive communication has taken place, currently problematic.

There are some further recommendations, namely that the Government:

  • 'explore options for extending the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile phone or other device to hands-free devices. This should consider the evidence of the risks involved, the consequences of a ban, and the practicalities of enforcing it.' (This is a difficult area and there exist other offences, including careless driving, to cover this.)
  • 'assess and report on the effectiveness of the 2017 increase in penalties for driving while using a mobile phone. This should review the current penalties that apply to this offence and consider whether they should be increased to better reflect the serious risks created by drivers committing this offence and make clear to offenders that there are serious consequences to being caught'
  • 'engage with police forces and Police and Crime Commissioners to explore options for improving the enforcement of this offence. This should include looking at opportunities for making greater use of technology, and how increased enforcement can work alongside public awareness campaigns.' (A theme highlighted in previous Transport Committee papers is that any reduction in the number of offences detected is a result of fewer road traffic officers, rather than less actual offending)
  • 'set out a plan for devising and implementing a public education campaign about the risks of using a mobile phone while driving, and the penalties for being caught doing so. This should include an assessment of the groups it is most important to reach—such as those who have a history of committing road traffic offences—and plans for how to engage with them' 
  • 'demonstrate its recognition of the risks of using a mobile phone while driving -whether hand-held or hands-free - by producing guidance on the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone and instructing drivers directly in its employ not to use a mobile phone or other device - whether hand-held or hands-free - while driving, and explore the possibility of making this a requirement for the wider public sector and Government contractors.'

For further information or formal advice with regard to road transport and road traffic matters, please contact us

Also, see our previous blog on the need for tougher mobile phone restrictions here.

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