The Government has today confirmed it will close a legal loophole which has allowed drivers to escape prosecution for hand-held mobile phone use while behind the wheel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today announced that he will urgently take forward a review to tighten up the existing law preventing hand-held mobile use while driving.
Currently, the law prevents drivers from using a hand-held mobile phone to call or text. However, people caught filming or taking photos while driving have escaped punishment as lawyers have successfully argued this activity does not fit into the ‘interactive communication’ currently outlawed by the legislation.
One such case was brought before the High Court in July. It followed a motorist, Ramsey Barreto, who was caught filming a road accident on 19 August 2017 in Ruislip.
According to the courts, a police officer observed the respondent holding his phone up to the driver’s window for between 10 and 15 seconds. He stopped the respondent, at which point the phone was on his lap in video mode. He admitted what he had done and apologised.
The conclusion in that case was that the offence is not committed unless it is proved beyond reasonable doubt (by the Prosecution) that the phone was being used for an ‘interactive telecommunication function’ at the time of the alleged offence.
However, as always, it may still be an offence of driving without due care and attention or dangerous driving, if the standard of driving falls below that expected of a careful and competent driver.
The revised legislation proposed by government today will mean any driver caught texting, taking photos, browsing the internet or scrolling through a playlist while behind the wheel will be prosecuted for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, 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.
“Drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone are hindering their ability to spot hazards and react in time – putting people’s lives at risk.
“We welcome the Transport Select Committee’s report, and share their drive to make our roads even safer which is why this review will look to tighten up the existing law to bring it into the 21st century, preventing reckless driving and reduce accidents on our roads.”
It is already a criminal offence to use a phone while driving without a hands-free device. This latest move will see government go further to ensure the law reflects the use of devices which allow other distracting activities.
The impacts of this behaviour are proven – if a driver looks at their phone for just two seconds when travelling at 30 miles per hour, whether to reply to a message or send a quick snap, they will travel 100 feet blind, drastically increasing the chance of accidents.
The review will be urgently taken forward with further proposals expected to be in place by next Spring - making the offence clearer for drivers and police forces.
Nick Lloyd, Head of Road Safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “Drivers who use their phones are up to 4 times more likely to crash, RoSPA highlighted this loop hole in the summer and is delighted that such prompt action is being taken to ensure that all hand-held mobile phone use is to be prohibited, making our roads safer for all.”
This action comes alongside further measures to tackle phone use while driving, including a review of road traffic policing and wider traffic enforcement to look at how roads policing currently works, its effectiveness, and where improvements could be made.
While Ministers have also announced that they will consider the current penalties in place for hand-held mobile phone use, there are no plans to ban hands-free phone use.
Anthony Bangham, National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable said: “I welcome the Government’s announcement to review the law in this area.
“Technology has moved on since the original offence was introduced and it’s important to ensure any distraction to a driver is kept to an absolute minimum to keep all road users as safe as possible.”