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Using Your Phone While Driving: Is The Law Changing?

View profile for Peter Butterfield
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Using Your Phone While Driving: Is The Law Changing?

The law relating to using a mobile phone whilst driving is well trodden, but a High Court decision published this week has shed greater light on the topic.

People often ask, "What exactly does using a mobile phone while driving mean?" on the basis that smartphones now have functionality extending far beyond the use simply to make or receive calls.

The High Court case involved a motorist driving in Ruislip, West London where a serious accident had taken place. Many motorists were driving past slowly but the subject in question was seen by police to film the scene for between 10 - 15 seconds as he drove past. The driver was subsequently prosecuted for the offence of driving a motor vehicle while using a hand held mobile telephone.

He was convicted at the Magistrates' Court but on appeal the Crown Court quashed his conviction determining that using a hand held mobile phone to take a photograph or film did not amount to "using". The matter came before the High Court for authoritative determination.

The High Court made it clear that the legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving. Simply, that it prohibits driving while using a mobile phone or other device for calls and other interactive communication.

The court concluded that using a mobile phone to film or take photographs while driving does not fall foul of the legislation. In doing so, they endorsed a recent decision of the Crown Court at Harrow, who determined that using a phone to listen to music which was stored on the same did not offend the legislation.

It follows, therefore, that the prosecution must now show that the phone was being used to make or receive a call to perform any other interactive communication function. The latter includes sending or receiving oral or written messages; sending or receiving still or moving images and providing access to the internet.

Readers of this article should, however, be aware that although they are now unlikely to be convicted of driving a motor vehicle while using a handheld mobile phone if playing music or filming an incident, that such action may demonstrate a greater level of offending.

Using a mobile phone while driving carries a financial sanction and an endorsement of 6 penalty points. Police forces may now choose to prosecute such cases either by way of careless driving, or possibly even dangerous driving. The former carries the potential for greater penalty point endorsement, with a range of 3 to 9 points. The latter carries a mandatory one-year disqualification and the potential for  a prison sentence of up to two years.

For more information....

Please contact Peter Butterfield on 01245 228131 or e-mail butterfieldp@gepp.co.uk

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.