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Drivers’ Mobile Phone Loophole to be Closed

In response to the Commons’ Transport Select Committee, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that the Department for Transport will launch an urgent review of the current legislation relating to the use of handheld mobile phones whilst driving.

cell phones bannedMr Shapps said, ‘We recognise that staying in touch with the world while travelling is an essential part of modern day life, but we are also committed to making our roads safe.’

As the law stands, using a device ‘which performs an interactive communication’, such as a handheld mobile phone for calls, texts or accessing the Internet whilst driving contravenes the Road Vehicles Regulations 1986.

The fixed penalty for the offence is six penalty points and a £200 fine, although the maximum fine for drivers of new and used cars privately, or in the motor trade, is £1,000 rising to £2,500 for drivers of heavy goods vehicles and buses.

If convicted, newly qualified drivers who passed their test within the last two years will automatically lose their licence; but any driver convicted of this offence can expect to pay much more to renew their insurance policy.

The wording of the current legislation which has been criticised by the Government and High Court judges for failing to keep pace with the evolution of smartphones; has effectively created a legal loophole.

The case that recently hit the headlines was that of Ramsey Barreto, who was convicted for using a handheld mobile phone to film an accident scene while driving near his home in Ruislip back in August 2017. His conviction was quashed at Crown Court on the grounds that his actions did not constitute ‘interactive communication’ of any kind, and even more recently, an appeal against that ruling lodged by the Director of Public Prosecutions was dismissed by the High Court.

Road Traffic Defence Solicitor Emma Patterson; who represented Barreto, was keen to point out that despite the ‘loophole’, drivers ‘could still be prosecuted for driving without due care or dangerous driving; which can carry a far higher punishment’.

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The proposed change to the law expected to be implemented by early 2020, would ban drivers of any vehicle using handheld mobile phones for any purpose behind the wheel.

The Commons’ Transport Select Committee actually called for the Government to consider banning the use of all mobile phones, handheld or hands-free while driving, but these measures will not form part of the new legislation.

Samuel Nahk, Senior Public Affairs Officer at road safety charity Brake, agreed that the Government could have been tougher, by saying, ‘All phone use behind the wheel is dangerous and the law must reflect this’.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) cautiously welcomed the review, tweeting that it was ‘chuffed’ that the Government is looking at closing a loophole.