The Government is consulting on offences for using a hand-held mobile phones.  These new offences will affect licensed taxi & private hire drivers. 

The law prohibiting the use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving has been in place since 2003. Drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone while driving can receive a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £200 and six penalty points on their driving licence. If the case goes to the magistrates’ court, the maximum fine is £1,000 (or £2,500 for bus and lorry drivers). 

There is a problem with the offence in that it only captures certain types of use. The courts considered the nature of the offence in the case of DPP v Ramsey Barreto (2019 EWHC 2044 [ADMIN]). Their judgment made it clear that the dedicated hand-held mobile phone offence is only triggered when a driver is: 

  • holding a mobile phone in his hand; and
  • performing a function which involves “interactive communication”.

The term “interactive communication” essentially means that the driver is communicating with another person through voice calls, texting or email; or communicating with the internet (searching for, or looking at, a website).

Whilst use of hand-held mobile phones for anything other than “interactive communication” could be enforced under more general road traffic offence of “not in proper control of the vehicle”, the Government is consulting to change the law to make these “standalone” offences more explicit.

“Standalone” activities that will be captured under the revised offence

  • Driver holds the mobile phone or similar device in the hand to:
  • Illuminate the screen
  • Unlock the device
  • Check the time
  • Check notifications
  • Reject a call
  • Compose text messages or e-mails to save in drafts
  • Take photos or videos
  • Use the phone’s camera as a mirror
  • Search for music stored on the phone
  • Search for photos or other images stored in the phone
  • Dictate voice messages into the phone
  • Read a book downloaded on the phone
  • Play a game downloaded on the phone

There is a specific exemption for drivers who make contactless payments using their hand-held mobile phones/devices.

What devices will be covered by the revised offence?

At present, the hand-held mobile phone offence covers mobile phones and other similar devices. Under the new rules the term “other hand-held interactive communication devices” will be used to describe devices that are similar to mobile phones and cannot be used while driving. This will be defined as a device capable of sending and receiving data (other than two-way radio). There will no longer be any reference to performing an interactive communication function, and examples of the types of use which are banned will be described separately.

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cell_phone_use_while_driving.jpg

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence.

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