Using Hand-held Mobile Phones While Driving – Moves for Tougher Penalties

The law against use of hand-held mobile phones while driving came into force in 2003, with the penalties later being increased. Now there are proposals to make the punishment for this offence tougher still, with increased fines and a larger number of penalty points.

However, sometimes there can be mistakes. For example, police may think that a driver was holding a phone when this isn’t the case. Often motorists accept a fixed penalty notice because they are worried about going to court, but there is no reason to accept points and a fine if you were not in fact using a phone illegally.

As one of the most successful barristers in East Anglia dealing with motoring cases, Marcus Croskell has experience of defending clients charged with a whole range of offences, including using a hand-held phone.

Driving While Using a Mobile Phone

Using a hand-held phone was originally made illegal because research showed that it is highly risky for drivers to use these devices while driving. It is estimated that drivers using phones are 4 times more likely to be involved in accidents than those who are not.

When the law was introduced in 2003, drivers could receive a fixed penalty of £30, or face a fine of up to £1,000 in court, with higher fines for some types of vehicle. The fixed penalty sum was later raised to £60 and most recently, in 2013, to £100. Drivers also receive 3 penalty points.

The law bans a range of uses of handheld phones or other similar devices. These include texting, playing voice messages, taking photos, including “selfies”, and accessing social media, as well as making calls. This applies even if you have stopped at traffic lights or are queuing in traffic, since you are still regarded as driving.

There is a rare exception to the law which exempts you if you have to dial the emergency numbers 999 or 112 and are unable to stop your car safely. If you believe this defence applies to you, a road traffic lawyer can advise you on this. Another exemption covers 2-way radios, as used by members of the emergency services and taxi drivers.

As well as drivers facing charges for using hand-held mobile phones, employers could also face a charge if they are suspected of causing or permitting an employee to use a phone while driving.

Also, although using a hands-free phone is not a specific offence, drivers using these devices can still be charged with not having proper control of a vehicle if police believe the device was causing a distraction. This is the same charge which drivers can face if it is thought they were distracted by eating and drinking, putting on make-up or carrying out various other activities while at the wheel.

Proposed Changes to the Law

The Government is considering making further changes to the law over using hand-held phones, and put forward a number of suggestions during a recent consultation. It is proposing to increase the number of penalty points from 3 to 4 for drivers of non-HGVs, and to double them from 3 to 6 for HGV drivers.

The Government is also proposing to increase fixed penalty notices for both HGV and non-HGV drivers from £100 to £150. It says in its consultation document that, even after the changes in the law, most first-time offenders will be offered a course instead of being given a penalty. HGV drivers will also be sent a letter. However, it is up to the discretion of the police as to whether any individual motorist should be invited to a course.

Defences and Mitigation for Motorists

In cases where you were not in fact using a handheld phone, you can refuse to accept a penalty and fight the case. Your barrister can explain this to the court and present the full facts of the situation, and Marcus Croskell has done this successfully in previous cases. Police checks of call logs and text messages may be able to back up your argument that you were not using the phone.

Some drivers who receive 3 points will find this pushes the number of points on their licence up to 12. This means they face an automatic road ban for a minimum of 6 months under “totting”. If this applies to you, you need to consult expert motoring lawyers to find out whether you have a case for arguing that a disqualification would mean “exceptional hardship”.

If you are looking for barristers based locally in East Anglia with a specialist knowledge of motoring cases, get in touch with Marcus Croskell. As an experienced motoring offence lawyer, he can advise you if you are charged with offences including using a hand-held phone, or if you are facing a ban from driving. Marcus Croskell works with motorists across Woodbridge, Ipswich, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and further afield. You can make a free initial enquiry either by email or by calling 0843 886 2603.