It is an offence to use a hand held phone or similar device when driving. Most offences are resolved now by way of 6 penalty points and a £200 fixed penalty notice. You’ll also lose your licence if you passed your driving test in the last 2 years. If the matter proceeds to court, the fine can be as much as £1000, or £2,500 if the user was driving a bus, coach or HGV.
A hand held device is one that “is or must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive function (for example, sending or receiving texts, images, or accessing the internet)”.
Hands free devices do not contravene this provision, however the CPS / Police can still prosecute under other provisions if the usage of a hands free device impairs the standard of driving, for example careless or dangerous driving. Similarly the CPS/Police can prosecute for careless or dangerous driving when a hand held device is utilised, if the circumstances justify greater sanction. This might follow in a case where the user of a mobile phone has caused or contributed to an accident. The penalty for careless driving is a fine up to £5,000, 3-9 penalty points, and discretionary disqualification. In serious cases a charge of dangerous driving could be visited with up to two years imprisonment, a mandatory minimum 1 year ban, and an extended driving test to complete. If a death is caused by dangerous driving the sentence is up to 14 years imprisonment, a mandatory minimum 2 year ban, and an extended driving test.
Use of a mobile phone whilst driving can therefore be an expensive business. Usage would also include operating a hand held device whilst stationary at traffic lights, or whilst in a traffic jam. Emergency calls are permitted if it is unsafe or impractical to stop. The provision does not apply to two way radios, but their usage is regulated by other offences.
It is also an offence to use a hand held mobile phone whilst supervising a learner. Driving instructors beware! An employer may also be liable for permitting usage if an employee is required to answer a phone whilst driving, or the practice is not specifically prohibited.
The acquisition of points in an age of speed cameras and random checks is not to be taken lightly. A hapless motorist who acquires 12 points in a three year period will be disqualified for a minimum of 6 months unless they demonstrate exceptional hardship. Similarly new licence holders will lose their licence if they acquire 6 points or more within 2 years of passing their test.
The Government is encouraging police forces to clamp down on mobile phone usage whilst driving. Recent research from the Transport Laboratory suggests speaking on a mobile phone whilst driving reduces reactions by a staggering 46%. With texting the figure is 37%. Whilst headlines about mobile phone usage being worse than drink driving are inaccurate (in fact there is a 13% reduction in reactions for someone who has taken drink but is under the legal limit), it is self evident from these figures that using a mobile phone whilst driving is irresponsible, and could cause an accident.
At present approximately ½ million motorists have an active endorsement for mobile phone usage whilst driving. Unless you want to join them, do not use your phone whilst driving. If you are prosecuted and required to attend court, always seek legal representation to give you the best chance of keeping your licence. What value do you place on your licence?
To discuss any potential motoring defence email Kieran firstname.lastname@example.org or call him 07748 638752
The author is a practising Barrister from the Chambers of 18 Red Lion Court, London EC4A 3EB.