We are coming up to three months since the new tougher penalty for mobile phone use behind the wheel came into force on 1st March, bringing in a tougher fixed penalty of six points and a £200 fine alongside guidance issued to police not to offer awareness courses in lieu of the points.
With the associated police crackdown in the first couple of weeks and increased phone awareness the introduction of these laws have produced, we are getting more calls than ever from drivers who have found themselves on the wrong side of the legislation.
Despite the increased awareness of the dangers of mobile phone use there has not been a lot of guidance provided to motorists about the laws against their use. As a result we thought that it would be useful to have a look at common questions we get asked by motorists and clear up some of the confusion that exists in relation to the law.
“I wasn’t taking a phone call or texting, I was using the map system. Is this still an offence?”
The law doesn’t specify what is and is not classed as use. Provided that your hand is on the phone in some way it doesn’t matter whether you are sending a text, using social media or even using the map system, the offence is still satisfied. Whilst it’s not illegal to use the map systems on your smart phone, if you do wish to use it as a sat nav in this way then your phone must be mounted on a hands-free stand and you must not attempt to operate this while driving in any way.
“The traffic was at a standstill and I hadn’t moved for about 10 minutes. I was sending a text telling my wife I would be home late when the police came to the car. If I wasn’t driving then surely I haven’t done anything wrong?”
Unfortunately for many motorists, being in standstill traffic is in no way a defence. The law states that if the engine is on then regardless of whether or not the car is moving, the offence of using the mobile phone will be satisfied. If you do wish to use your phone at any point whilst in your vehicle, you must be sure that the engine is off, the car is secure and it is safe to do so without being distracted.
“The police didn’t take any photos – how can they prove this without evidence?”
This is a very common question we get asked as more often than not the police won’t have any photos of you using the mobile phone and they don’t need them in order for the offence to be proven in court. It is possible to defend the charge by showing that there was no mobile phone use at the material time by using phone records, witness accounts and other such means. If the statement given by an officer states that they believed you to be using the phone then this will be taken as an honest truthful account by the court.
“Is using a hands-free device legal? I have heard some people say that they have been in trouble for this”
In short, yes, using a hands-free device is legal and encouraged by car manufacturers who often include built in hands-free systems in their vehicles; however any device you use must be completely hands-free as you are not allowed to operate it even momentarily. That’s right, even touching the screen for a second to accept an incoming call is technically infringing the law!
Although hands-free systems are the safest way to take a call whilst driving they are not without risk and as their use becomes more common our understanding of the dangers afforded by the cognitive distraction from the road increases. The police can still charge you with an offence if they feel that your concentration on the road is impaired, so you must be cautious of being over reliant on hands-free devices and ensure that you are not allowing your attention to drift when taking a call hands-free.
There are apps available for your smart phone such as “LifeSaver” that block calls and texts from coming in whilst your vehicle is in motion. If you are likely to shift your attention from the road when you see your phone light up -even if you have no intention of taking the call- then it might be a good idea to look into downloading something like this, or you could go even further and switch your phone off whilst driving to get rid of any temptation!
If you are reading this because you have been charged with an offence and need to seek legal assistance then please give us a call on 0800 0463066 for free initial legal advice. Our team at Keep Me On The Road are always happy to have a chat with you, answer any questions and explain how we can assist you.