Law changes on the use of mobile phones

Law changes on the use of mobile phones

On 25 March 2022, the law became stricter on people using their mobile phones while driving in England, Wales and Scotland, to keep up with advances in technology. According to the UK Government, “the array of functions that mobile phones can now perform has outgrown the wording of the offence and its parameters”.


The current law:

It has been an offence since 2003 to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar hand-held device while driving in Great Britain. There is a similar offence in Northern Ireland. The offence provided by Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986) is specified as using a hand-held device for ‘interactive communication’: this refers largely to phone-calls and messages or accessing the internet.

Using a device whilst driving is an offence whether or not a collision occurs. Currently, the minimum penalty for using a handheld mobile device is a mandatory six penalty points with an additional fine.


The new law:

An offence is committed whenever a driver holds and uses a device, regardless of why they are holding it. That is any device which is capable of interactive communication, even when that functionality is not enabled at the time (including devices used while in flight mode).


Background:

The legislation is not seen to be straightforward and has led to drivers contesting allegations where the wording of the provision has been less than clear. In DPP vs Barreto, a 2019 case, a driver who was found to be recording a road traffic accident as it happened was acquitted due to his actions, i.e. filming, being outside of the scope of the legislation.

The Government’s reaction to that decision was that all use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving is reckless and dangerous, and not just when being used for the purposes of a call or other interactive communication. The view was widely upheld and on 1 February 2022, the Government laid a Statutory Instrument, which enacted the amendment.


What will the new law mean?

It will amend the 1986 Regulations, and the offence is triggered whenever a driver holds and uses a device, regardless of why they are holding it, including:

  • unlocking the device
  • accessing any stored data, such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes, or messages
  • accessing an app
  • accessing the internet
  • checking the time
  • checking notifications
  • unlocking the device
  • making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet-based call
  • sending, receiving, or uploading oral or written content
  • sending, receiving, or uploading a photo or video
  • utilising the camera, video, or sound recording
  • drafting any text
  • illuminating the screen

Exceptions to the rule will only apply in an emergency or, the new exemption, which is to make a contactless payment at a payment terminal for goods or services. Using a mobile phone for navigation will also be allowed,w only where the phone is situated in a cradle.

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