Guide to Driving Offences - Mobile Phone Use
In December 2003 a new law was introduced making it illegal to use a hand held device while driving a motor vehicle. Breaking this law, regardless of how safely you are driving, can lead to a fine of £60 and three penalty points. If you cause an accident or injury whilst driving using a mobile device then the standard charge may be extended to careless or dangerous driving. In this case the punishment is more severe with a minimum fine of 1,000 and in some cases prosecution by a court and a criminal record.
Clearly there are varying degrees of severity with this type of driving offence but what is certain is that it should be treated seriously, as what many consider to be a relatively minor action can result in a major driving offence that can even cost lives.
What is a hand-held device?
A hand-held device can be described as any appliance that is or has to be held when making and receiving a phone call or performing any other communication purpose such as writing or reading a text message. Predominantly a hand held device will refer to a mobile phone or tablet device. Importantly, it is the interactive element of this action which will put you in danger of breaking this law and this means not just making a call or sending a text. The following interactions all qualify as using a hand held device:
- Making and receiving a phone call
- Writing or reading a text message
- Sending or receiving still, moving images or videos
- Using a device to access the internet
Crucial to all of the above is the action of actually holding the phone in your hand. However there are exceptions to this rule if the phone is held in a cradle. Cradles are designed to hold a mobile or hand-held device so that it can be operated safely whilst driving. The best example of this is a satellite navigation device, where pressing buttons or touch screen interfaces is legal as long as you are not physically holding the device in your hand. This also applies to mobile phones.
So the key here is whether you are performing an action where information is being transmitted or received where you are physically holding a hand held device in your hand. If this is the case then you are breaking a motoring law.
Emergency calls can be made to 999 whilst operating a vehicle but only if it is unsafe or unpractical to stop and make the call.
Hands Free Phones
As mentioned above, if you are not physically holding the mobile phone or handheld device whilst driving than this is allowed. However, be mindful that if you are using a hands free phone and you are deemed to not be in control of a vehicle, you can be prosecuted for that offence.
There is no law that makes it illegal to use a mobile phone or device whilst cycling. However it is still possible to be prosecuted for dangerous or careless cycling if you lose control of your bicycle whilst using a mobile phone or device.
Two Way Radio
Two way radios (also known as “press to talk radios), similar to those used by emergency services or taxi drivers, are not included in this law and are legal to use whilst driving.
Does It Affect My Driving?
Much research has been conducted to show the impact of using a mobile phone or handheld device whilst driving. What was discovered is that using such a device is a significant driving distraction and therefore increases the likelihood of an accident. Drivers who use a mobile phone whilst driving are:
- Less aware of what is happening around them on the road
- Less likely to see road signs
- More likely to fail to keep in lane and maintain constant speed
- More prone to tailgating vehicles in front
- Likely to have reaction times reduced significantly
- More likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic
Employers Take Note
The law also extends to causing and permitting a driver of a vehicle to use a hand held device whilst driving. This also applies to employers who will be guilty of an offence if they need or allow their staff who drive as part of their employment to use a handheld device or mobile phone.
Employers have to provide their employees with hands free kits to comply with driving laws but also have to be mindful of health and safety investigation if an accident does occur whilst using a hands free kit. Employers have a duty under health and safety law to manage the risks faced by their employees on the road.
Calling a Mobile Phone User
For anyone calling someone who is using a mobile phone device it is important that the caller establishes that it is safe to talk. The first question to ask should always be: “Are you driving”. If the person is driving then the next question to ask is “Is it safe to talk” or “Please call me back when it is safe to talk”.
Remember, fewer driving offences on your licence will mean cheaper car insurance quotes so making sure you comply with the laws regarding mobile device usage whilst driving will save you money.