News that the number of drivers using mobile phones at the wheel has fallen since the Government introduced new penalties is to be welcomed.
But the figures also highlight the fact that thousands of motorists are continuing to break the law.
The data shows that 30,470 fixed penalty notices were issued to drivers for the offence in 2017, compared with 49,694 the year before.
It looks like the new laws have got off to a good start, but it is concerning that so many motorists are continuing to use phones when driving.
Some research suggests taking your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds can double the risk of an accident. Even where an accident does not occur, the potential penalties for the offence are severe.
One in 10 of the drivers surveyed said the law was unclear, while more than a quarter didn’t know that using Google Maps on their phone or even just tapping the screen when behind the wheel is illegal.
The offence of ‘using a mobile phone while driving’ has several ingredients. First, the driver must be driving a motor vehicle on a road.
Second, they must be using a hand-held mobile phone or other device – two-way radio apart – which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.
The mobile telephone counts as being used if it is being held by the driver – even if just briefly removed from its cradle or holder – while making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive function, such as texting or any function involving the internet, apps, GPS etc.
A common misconception is that the vehicle has to be in motion. This not the case. The law can apply if the vehicle is stationary in traffic, in a lay-by or at the side of the road.
In fact, the only legal way to use a mobile phone in a vehicle is to park and switch the engine off first.
Even in cases where you are found to be holding the device in your hand but it cannot be proven that it is being ‘used’ you may still be guilty of a different offence of ‘not being in proper control of a vehicle’. This would carry a penalty of three points.
By Paul Loughlin motoring law solicitor at Stephensons