Using your mobile phone whilst behind the wheel of a car

Can you use a mobile phone whilst behind the wheel of a car? You may think that the answer is simply no but, in fact, at the moment the answer is actually that it depends what you are using it for.

A recent case reports where the defendant was driving his car in Ruislip, West London. A serious accident had taken place and motorists, including the defendant, were driving past slowly. A police officer observed the defendant holding his phone up to the driver’s window for between 10 and 15 seconds. He stopped the defendant, at which point the phone was on his lap in video mode. He immediately admitted that he had been videoing the accident and apologised for his actions. He was charged with using a handheld mobile telephone whilst behind the wheel of a car and was convicted at the magistrate’s court.

This decision was appealed and, at the hearing, the defendant’s representative drew to the attention of the court a relevant recent decision of the Crown Court at Harrow on an appeal against conviction for an offence under the same provisions. In that case the motorist, while driving, had been using his mobile phone to listen to music that was stored in the phone. In evidence he demonstrated how he changed the music tracks on his phone which he held in his hand, using his thumb.

The issue was whether that conduct constituted using a mobile phone within the meaning of the regulations. The court ruled that it did not because it did not involve any “external communication”. The Crown Court in the present case adopted the same reasoning and concluded that using a mobile phone to take a photograph or film did not amount to “using” a handheld mobile telephone or device for the communications purposes defined in the regulations.

It was the use of the phone or device (while held) for the purpose of a call or other interactive communication that was prohibited, not all uses of the phone. Accordingly, the conviction was quashed.

How did this anomaly happen? Well, the regulations were created when mobile phones did little more that text and make calls (both of which were covered in the regulations) and, maybe a simple game such as snakes (not seen at the time as something that people were likely to attempt whist driving). Over the years, phones had transformed into smart phones with all the wonderful apps that they contain – and yet the regulations had not been updated to cover using their other functions.

That conclusion should not be thought to be a green light for people to make films as they drive. Driving while filming events or taking photographs whether with a separate camera or with the camera on a phone, might be cogent evidence of careless driving and, possibly, of dangerous driving.

If you would like assistance in connection with a motoring matter, call Sarah Hallett on 02392 820 747 for further information.

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