Road traffic law and mobile phones
What laws are in place to regulate the use of a mobile phone whilst driving?
Road traffic laws, alongside the highway code, regulate all actions of drivers. These laws cover driving whilst under the influence, dangerous driving, driving without insurance, motor accidents, driving whilst banned and, most relevant to this article, driving whilst using a mobile phone, or more importantly ‘hand held’ mobile phone. As will be seen further through, it is the process of having the mobile in hand whilst driving that gives grounds for prosecution. The regulations on the use of mobile phones whilst driving apply to any driver of a motor vehicle on the road, this includes motorcyclists, goods vehicles, buses, taxis and obviously cars.
Using a mobile phone or hand held device refers to any actions taken whilst driving, which will distract you from the attention of the road. Such actions relate to any form of outgoing or incoming call, reading or sending text messages, using the internet, or any modern-day ‘apps’ that may be on the phone. Those kids and their new-fangled 'apps' and their trouser problems, I ask you. Any use of the hand held device for any of the above actions is classified as an offence, as long as the car is being driven. What constitutes driving is a bit of a grey area. Obvious convictions are made where the individual is clearly driving along the road or in a position waiting to resume driving, being stopped at traffic lights is not a defence, the driving process is clearly still occurring. Even being stopped in a lay-by but having the engine running could constitute driving with a mobile phone, it depends on the exact situation. The best advice to offer is to pull over in any acceptable lay-by, turn the engine off and then the road traffic laws shouldn’t be able to provide evidence for a conviction.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 gives the following statutory definition of what it constitutes illegal whilst driving.
A person who contravenes or fails to comply with a construction and use requirement—
(a)as to not driving a motor vehicle in a position which does not give proper control or a full view of the road and traffic ahead, or not causing or permitting the driving of a motor vehicle by another person in such a position, or
(b)as to not driving or supervising the driving of a motor vehicle while using a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held interactive communication device, or not causing or permitting the driving of a motor vehicle by another person using such a telephone or other device,
This definition points out two essential areas other than the obvious provision of not driving whilst using a hand held device. Firstly, it directly relates the provision of anyone who is supervising a driver using a held hand device. Any driving instructor, whilst supervising a learner, must not use their mobile phone even though they are not driving themselves. This is because their attention is supposed to be on ensuring the learner driver is driving safely.
The second important area it beings to the forefront regards any action, including that of driving whilst using a mobile phone, that does not give proper control of the road. Although legal, this does include the use of hands free devices. Any device that is seen to take attention away from the road and therefore causes an accident can put the individual where they are liable for the accident due to careless or dangerous driving.
Any individual who is caught driving whilst using a mobile phone can be charged. The current penalty for the offence is 3 points on the individual’s license and a fine up to £1000 depending on the severity of the case.