A cyclist who complained to the police after he was mistakenly pulled over by an officer for “using a mobile phone” while riding on the road – when, in fact, the cyclist was attempting to save footage of a close pass from a lorry driver on his bike camera – was later told that, though there is no specific offence for using an electronic device while riding a bike, his actions could still be deemed “careless and inconsiderate”.
During the incident, after stopping the cyclist the officer erroneously argued that it was illegal to use a phone or electronic device while cycling, telling the rider to “look it up”, said that he would have received a ticket – or been arrested or charged – had she not been on her own, and advised him that not wearing a helmet or hi-vis clothing could lead to him getting “killed or smushed”.
Aberdeen-based cyclist Liam was riding a bike fitted with a cargo trailer, loaded with recycling material, on the city’s Berryden Road when he was close passed by a lorry driver, footage of which the cyclist posted on X, formerly Twitter, this week.
“You can clearly see from the footage how close it was to my bike, so it was even closer to my wider trailer,” Liam told road.cc.
“I was trying to navigate the rough road but a bit further on, once I’d pulled over into the correct lane for going round the roundabout to enter Sainsbury’s, I had a second to press the button on my Cycliq Fly 12 to prevent the video footage from being overwritten.”
— Liam (@LiabilityLiam) November 14, 2023
However, that brief action led to him being pulled over by a lone female police officer shortly after the roundabout for “playing with something” on his bike.
“As I was exiting the roundabout I heard a siren, looked behind me and saw a police car following me,” Liam says.
“I didn’t think it was for me but I pulled over to let it past, but it pulled in behind me. The officer asked me if I knew why she had pulled me over. My first thought was there was an issue with the trailer or a strap had come loose or something.
“She then proceeded to tell me it was because I was using my mobile phone whilst cycling. I couldn’t believe what she was saying until I realised it was about the camera.”
In the video of the incident posted to X, the officer can be heard saying: “Do you know why I stopped you? I’m on my own and I’m on my way to a job, so you’re not getting a ticket, but I saw you on your phone… You were playing with something on the front of your bike – you need to be concentrating on the road as much as everyone else.”
After being informed by the “dumbfounded” cyclist that his phone was in his pocket and that he had instead pressed a button on his camera, the officer replied: “Don’t start pointing in my face. I’m here to give you a bit of safety advice – you’re also not wearing a helmet, with no hi-vis on. Do you want to get killed and smushed?”
Liam then pointed out to the officer that there is no law requiring the wearing of helmets or hi-vis, to which she replied: “And that’s why you’re not getting arrested or charged. I’m trying to give you a bit of safety advice. You need to take care of yourself – you should be wearing a helmet and hi-vis.
“It’s safety advice, so you don’t get injured when you’re cycling on the road. I’m not saying it’s a requirement, but in order to be safe on the road you should be wearing a helmet and hi-vis, and concentrating on the road, and not looking down at a camera.”
Liam, who was again accused of “wagging” his finger at the officer, also asked if she had witnessed the close pass committed by the lorry driver, arguing: “If you saw me touch that, you saw the close pass.”
“I didn’t see the [driver] pass you,” the officer responded. “I was looking at you, because your lack of hi-vis caused me to look at you, and I noticed you had no hi-vis on and no hat. If you’re to be safe on the road, you should do so. It’s concern for you on the road.”
Liam then asked: “Do you pull lots of cyclists over and tell them about hi-vis and helmets?”
“If I have the time to do so, and I see them doing something else, yes I do – because I’m concerned, I’ve seen cyclists suffer car accidents on the road without helmets.”
Finally, Liam informed the officer that it is not illegal to use a phone while cycling, prompting her to respond: “Yes it is, look it up.”
According to Police Scotland’s website, “using a handheld mobile phone whilst cycling is not illegal. However, you could commit an offence of careless riding or riding without due care and consideration. It is also not advisable for the obvious safety reasons.”
In April last year, transport minister Baroness Vere told the House of Lords that the government currently has no plans to introduce specific legislation banning cyclists and e-scooter riders from using mobile phones while riding, while telling her fellow politicians that “is s really important that we do not demonise all cyclists”.
Following the incident, Liam took a photograph of the back of his cargo trailer which, incidentally, was carrying a brightly coloured yellow box. He also filed a complaint with Police Scotland later that day, claiming that the officer “falsely accused me of using a phone whilst cycling and how there’s no such charge”.
“Months passed and I was contacted for further info,” he says. “Whilst being seriously unwell I provided this to the best of my ability. Then about five days ago the result of my complaint came through the letterbox. As I read it my jaw got lower and lower to the floor as they refused to uphold any of my complaints.”
In a letter sent by Police Scotland’s Professional Standards Department, responding to Liam’s complaints, an inspector dismissed the cyclist’s assertion that the “officer falsely claimed that [he] was using his mobile phone while cycling”, and that the officer “falsely claimed that it was an offence to use a mobile phone whilst cycling”.
Two other complaints, alleging that the officer who stopped the cyclist and those who later attended his home were “rude”, were also dismissed.
Referring to Liam saving the recorded footage of the close pass on his camera, the letter said: “While I appreciate the need for this, it perhaps would have been safer for both you and fellow road users if you had pulled over at the earliest opportunity to capture the footage, rather than doing so while continuing to cycle on a busy road.”
The letter also says that it “would have been reasonable for the officer to have assumed the device was a mobile phone” until the matter was clarified by the cyclist, before noting that “the device in question has not been inspected, and its capabilities and functions have not been determined. Hence, I cannot definitively rule out the possibility that it may have also functioned a mobile phone.”
“While there is no specific offence for cycling whilst using a mobile phone or other electronic device,” the inspector added, “these actions may be deemed careless and inconsiderate, and therefore punishable by law.”
“For those charges to apply one would have to be riding like a lunatic swerving in and out of people and traffic and causing damage or accidents,” Liam told road.cc. “But then those charges apply whether a mobile phone is involved or not.
“Simply riding along texting and being in full control of the bike and obeying all laws and traffic lights is not illegal and there’s no offence. This is what the officer was essentially accusing me of.
“The video shows that at no point was I riding like an idiot. I’m not even going fast on account of the weight of the trailer.
“They also try to claim that it’s possible my device was a phone. I provided Police Scotland with the video footage that clearly shows in the bottom right corner of the video that it’s a Cycliq camera. Can’t they use Google at Police Scotland?”
When contacted by road.cc, a Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We received a complaint which has been investigated and the complainer has been responded to.
“Anyone not satisfied with the way in which a complaint has been handled can request a review by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC).
“It’s the responsibility of every driver to help protect vulnerable road users like cyclists and drivers should understand how their actions can impact the life of that person riding a bike.
“Safety is the main priority for all road users and we encourage every road user to conduct themselves responsibly on the road. Weather can be unpredictable. Be prepared. Be Safe. Be Seen.”
The spokesperson also directed us to the force’s safety page for cyclists, which informs people on bikes that “bright and fluorescent materials should be worn in the daytime” and that “wearing a helmet may help protect your head if you are involved in a collision”.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.