New criminal offence of ‘phoning while driving’

A ban on the use of mobile phones in cars was announced last week, with fines of up to £1,000 for those that disobey the rules.

The Department of Transport published regulations (The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.4)) that make it a criminal offence to use a hand-held mobile phone at any time while driving, as from the beginning of December. Drivers caught flouting the rule will get a £30 fixed penalty fine; if they dispute the ticket and lose their case in court, they face fines as high as £1,000, or £2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles, buses or coaches.

Under the current law, police can only bring charges against drivers who are using mobile phones if their driving is considered careless or dangerous. According to Stefan Martin, an employment partner at Allen & Overy, the new regulations might have a wider impact than first thought. In particular, the new offence does not just concern individuals but could also impact upon their employers. “If someone caused an accident, then their employer is going to be potentially liable for any injury suffered as a result of that act,” he said. It is a point that is made explicit in the new regulations, which state that no person “shall cause or permit any other person to drive a motor vehicle on a road while that other person is using” a mobile phone.

The Government is also consulting on extending the powers. Ministers are keen to make using a handheld phone while driving an endorsable offence, which would put three penalty points on the licence of anyone caught. This will not come into effect for some time, however, as it would require legislation. Although the use of a hands-free phone will not be a criminal offence, drivers could face prosecution if any aspect of their call adversely affects their driving or leads to a crash.