In October 2020, the Department of Transport (DfT) launched an open consultation on proposals intended to close a loophole in the often-criticised legislation regarding the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving on UK roads.
Since 2003, it is an offence for any driver to use a hand-held device ‘for the purpose of any interactive communication’ while in charge of a vehicle.
However, the wording of the current legislation does not include ‘internal’ functions of a mobile phone, such as taking photographs, recording video clips, or even playing games.
In one well-publicised case, Ramsey Barreto was initially convicted of using a mobile phone to record a video clip of a road traffic collision scene in the Magistrates’ Court in July 2018, but the conviction was quashed on appeal to the Crown Court on the grounds that his actions did not involve any ‘interactive communication’.
Baroness Vere, Minister for Roads, Buses and Places, said of the proposed legislation, ‘Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st century.’ Of course, using a hand-held phone while driving is not only ‘distracting and dangerous’, in the words of Baroness Vere, but can also have serious ramifications when it comes to making a claim against, or renewing an insurance policy for a vehicle.
Any conviction for using a hand-held phone behind the wheel will, like any other motor conviction, will lead to higher motor insurance premiums.
The proposed legislation introduces a new exemption, which allows a hand-held mobile phone to be used for contactless payments at, say, a drive-through food outlet where purchased goods are delivered immediately.
Nevertheless, this new law which is expected to come into effect in early 2021, extends the existing fixed penalty notice, six penalty points and a £200 fine, to ‘standalone’ mode functions, thereby making it illegal for any driver use a hand-held mobile phone for any purpose, with the exception of contactless payment while the engine is running.
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Consequently, ‘professional’ drivers, including motor trade employees who rely on driving for their livelihood, will need to be even more circumspect than before with regard to mobile phone use if they are to remain on the right side of the law.
The initial response to the proposals was overwhelmingly positive. Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Roads Policing, said, ‘proposals to make the law clearer are welcome’, and his sentiments were echoed by Nicholas Lyes, Head of Roads Policy at the RAC, he added, the legislation represented a further step towards making illegal hand-held mobile phone uses ‘as socially unacceptable as drink-driving’.
According to a report published by the House of Commons Transport Committee in July 2019, around 3% of fatalities resulting from road traffic collisions in 2017 involved a driver of a vehicle using a mobile phone.