Putting calls on hold

Simon Bloxham

Wasn’t it already illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving? Well, apparently not. In what might come as a shock to many, it seems that you could still use your phone while driving if you wanted to take a picture, scroll through a playlist, or play a game. Really! Just who still does this? Well, there’s quite a few who do.

New mobile phone laws, making it illegal to use a hand-held device while driving under virtually any circumstance, came into force in March this year. Drivers are still able to use a hands-free device, such as a sat nav, if it’s secured in a cradle.

Anyone caught using their phone while driving could face a fine of up to £1,000 and have six points added to their licence, or a driving ban, and drivers need to be aware that use does not need to result in an accident for the offence to be committed.

Why the need for change?

The law is being updated to keep up with new and emerging technology. Department for Transport statistics show that in 2020, 17 people were killed and 114 people were seriously injured in road traffic accidents when the driver was using a mobile phone.

The first mobile phone law came into force in 2003, and since then devices have become more and more interactive. In the words of a Government spokesperson, “the array of functions mobile phones can now perform has outgrown the wording of the original offence and its restrictions”. So, something had to be done.

One case involved a driver being found not guilty of filming a nearby road accident while at the wheel.

The judge decided that as the driver was not using a hand-held mobile phone for ‘interactive communication’, it was beyond the scope of the offence.

What will the new law mean?

It amends the regulations so an offence is committed whenever a driver holds and uses a device. It will cover any device which is capable of interactive communication, even if that functionality is not enabled at the time. I had to look this one up (shows my age, I guess) and it would mean a device being used in flight mode! I really need to speak to my kids to find out more on that one.

What does using the phone mean?

There is plenty on this one. Just look at the raft of things that are captured in the new regulations.

  • Unlocking the device
  • Illuminating the screen
  • Checking the time
  • Checking notifications
  • Making, receiving, or rejecting a telephone or internet-based call
  • Sending, receiving, or uploading oral or written content
  • Sending, receiving, or uploading a photo or video
  • Utilising camera, video, or sound recording
  • Drafting any text
  • Accessing any stored data such as documents, books, audio files, photos, videos, films, playlists, notes, or messages
  • Accessing an app
  • Accessing the internet.

Are there any exemptions?

The existing exemption allowing a driver to use a phone in an emergency remains and another sensible exemption is added: drivers are permitted to use a device while driving to make a contactless payment at a payment terminal for goods or services. The vehicle would have to be stationary, and the item being paid for must be provided at the same time or after the contactless payment is made. Such a transaction might include paying for a car park or using it at a drive-through coffee or food place.

The use of a mobile phone for navigation is legal, so long as it is kept in a holder and not in the driver’s hand.

A good law implemented to make us safer all round. I think I can definitely support this one.

Help is at hand! As a member of SAIF you can talk to a safety professional at Safety for Business by calling 08456 344164.

You are also entitled to a discount on our fees when we help you with your health and safety needs and we can visit you to see how you are doing when it comes to compliance. This is free of charge apart from travel costs, so what have you got to lose?

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