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The Government has launched a consultation into extending the ban on mobile phone use while driving. At present, it’s only an offence to hold a mobile phone, and to perform a function which involves “interactive communication”, classified as communicating with another person via voice call, text or email, or by communicating with the internet through searching for or looking at a website.

 Activities falling within the offence now – “interactive communication” functions

Driver holds the mobile phone or similar device in the hand to:

Make a phone call

Receive a phone call

Send a text message

Send an e-mail

Access social media sites

Access streaming services

But although the police could use the laws of not being in proper control of a vehicle, the laws don’t explicitly bar functions such as searching for music or recording video on a handheld device, as they are “standalone” functions. That carries a lesser penalty than the £200 fine and six penalty points attached to using a mobile phone while at the wheel.

The distinction, in law, between “interactive communication” functions and “standalone” functions is, in the Government’s opinion, an entirely artificial one which generates problems both in principle and in practice,” said the Government consultation document. “It can no longer be justified, in principle, to retain a law which imposes tough penalties on a driver who performs a function involving interactive communication whilst imposing a lesser sanction on a driver who might also be holding a phone, scrolling through the screens, tapping keys and reading information – all the time with their eyes away from the road, but doing so in “standalone” mode.”

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

The change will make it easier for the police to prosecute drivers using footage submitted by members of the public, as at present it may be clear that a driver was using a phone at the wheel, but can’t be proven whether they were at the time involved in an interactive or standalone function.

The change in the law will still only cover drivers picking up a phone to use it while driving; phones positioned and remaining in a cradle, such as for use as navigation, won’t be included.

“Once the law has been changed in line with the proposals in this consultation document, in addition to the conventional “interactive communication” functions that are clearly within the offence now, the new offence will expressly ban any use of the phone, even picking it up to see who is calling and then rejecting that call, or picking the phone up to check the time or the weather,” continued the consultation document. “These actions take drivers’ eyes and concentration away from the road and the Government is proposing a comprehensive ban on the use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving.”

The consultation closes on 17 January 2021 and can be found here. A summary of responses, along with the next steps in introducing a new law, will be published within three months of the closing date.





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