The Government is to update the law on mobile phone use while driving to ‘reflect the real world’ after a loophole allowed drivers filming or taking photos to escape prosecution. The Department for Transport said the review would be carried out "urgently" with proposals in place by Spring 2020.
In July, Ramsey Barreto was acquitted of ‘driving a motor vehicle while using a hand-held mobile telephone’ after filiming the aftermath of a road traffic collision as he drove past.
The law refers to using, ‘a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held interactive communication device,’ and the judges in this case decided that the inclusion of the word ‘other’ worked to confine the meaning of ‘using’ to phones being used ‘for an interactive communication’ function.
Barreto successfully argued that he wasn't using his phone to communicate.
Speaking at the time, Emma Patterson, whose law firm took up his case, said: "We think the law will change very quickly. In the meantime it's very likely that police officers that pull you over for fiddling with mobiles are more likely to charge you for driving without due care.”
In a response to a House of Commons Transport Select Committee report, published today, the DfT said: “Both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have voiced concerns about the enforcement difficulties they face in having to establish not just that a mobile phone was being used, but whether that use involved “interactive communication” rather than a standalone function.
“This is an unrealistic and burdensome task for them in all but the most obvious cases and makes the offence extremely difficult to prosecute.”
The hand-held mobile phone offence will therefore be reviewed, with the DfT adding: “Our objective would be to ensure that the offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving reflects the real world where smart phones or devices are used not only for calls and texting (interactive communication) but also for scrolling play lists, photos, or drafting emails (standalone functions).”
The Commons’ Transport Select Committee had also recommended a ban on hands-free use, but the government said there are no plans to introduce such a measure, citing difficulties in enforcement as part of its reasoning.
The Government added that it intends to tackle the issue of distraction from mobile phones while driving as part of an upcoming THINK! campaign.
Duncan Dollimore Cycling UK’s head of campaigns welcomed the news but said roads policing also needed to be prioritised.
“Educational campaigns and increased penalties are part of the answer, but there also needs to be a credible fear of enforcement. But there just aren’t enough road traffic police officers.
“The stark reality is that we need more cops in cars to deal with dangerous behaviour on our roads, including mobile phone use whilst driving.
“The Government has an opportunity to fix this through the review of roads policing and traffic enforcement which was promised in July. To ensure that there’s a visible police presence on our roads, that review needs to ensure that roads policing is prioritised by national government and included in the Strategic Policing Requirement in England and Wales, so roads policing isn’t seen as a Cinderella service.”