Mobile Phones and Driving
Since 2003 it has been a specific offence to operate a hand-held mobile phone while driving. Currently the penalty for anyone caught doing so is 3 points on your licence and a minimum fine of £60.
However, if your case goes to court you may face disqualification from driving and a fine of up to £1,000. Drivers of buses or goods vehicles can be fined up to £2,500.
The regulations apply equally to drivers of all types of motor vehicle — cars, motorcycles, goods vehicles, buses, coaches and taxis. As well as this, they also apply to anyone supervising a learner driver during their learning — the supervisor must not have his attention diverted by using a mobile phones as this may present a danger to other motorists.
Hands-free phones are not prohibited. Pressing the buttons on a phone while it is placed in a cradle or on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorbike, for example, is acceptable so long as you are not gripping the phone.
Hands-free phones can still be a distraction, however, and you can still be prosecuted under Regulation 104 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 if the police deem you to not be in proper control of your vehicle due to the use of such a device. Use of a hands-free phone when an incident occurs could amount to careless or dangerous driving.
This all seems quite clear, but more contentious is what counts as "use" of a mobile phone, and the exact definition of "driving" your car.
Driving a car
Driving is quite widely defined in motoring law. Even if you are off the road, stationary, having your engine on may be sufficient for you to be deemed driving. Therefore it is wise to turn your engine off when your car is stopped.
Likewise the police will still consider you to be driving if you are stuck in a traffic jam, so in this situation you should not alleviate your boredom by using your phone, other than through a hands-free set.
All this having been said, each case has to be judged on its merits, so nothing is cut and dried.
Using a mobile phone
“Use" of a phone requires some form of interaction with the device, for example looking to see who is calling or dialling a number, as well as speaking to or texting someone. It can certainly be disputed that merely holding a phone is enough to constitute using it.
The onus is on the prosecution to prove you were using the phone. This will usually be based on testimony from the officer who spotted you. However, were you able to prove that you did not make/send or receive any calls or texts at the time of the alleged offence, you may convince the court that no offence was committed.
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