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Could Motorists Challenge Convictions for Driving While Using Their Phones?

A new legal grey area is just starting to emerge...

Driving using your phone is illegal right? Wrong, well sort of.

What if you were driving along, filming the scene of an accident? Undoubtedly that constitutes as ‘using’ a mobile phone, you would have had to touch it, unlock it, and press the record button all while holding it up. It turns out that a recent high court ruling deems that as not using a mobile phone under the current wording of the law.

It all centres around Ramsey Barreto, a builder, who thought it would be a good idea to film the aftermath of a serious crash in Ruislip, north London. Isleworth Crown Court overturned the initial ruling of Barreto using his phone, netting him six points and a £200 fine. This was then taken to the High Court where they agreed that Ramsey was indeed not using his phone in the way the law is currently written, this is due to the fact that the wording states ‘interactive communication,’ i.e. calling or texting, filming with the camera does not constitute as this, so he got off scot-free.

The CPS argued the fact that the law prohibits any use of a handheld mobile phone, but judge Lady Justice Thirwall dismissed that argument, agreeing with Barreto’s lawyers.

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This ruling is mostly down to outdated legislation, laws that are so rarely updated yet keep the country locked into the dark ages on occasion. Regulation 110, the law related to mobile phone use, was first introduced in 1986 and amended in 2003 to include the operation of a hand-held mobile phone. It states:

Regulation 110(6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of "interactive communication functions" such as: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet. As internet communication is included, the interaction does not therefore have to be with another person.

Therefore, in the word of the law, using a mobile phone as a camera or video recorder is legal, however morally dubious that is.

Old legislation like his clearly needs revisiting and urgently, that’s one reason why Lady Justice Thirwall dismissed the argument; to make a point that the law needs to be changed.

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Any distraction when driving could possibly be lethal, even looking at the infotainment system for five seconds at 35 MPH means travelling the length of an aeroplane by the time your eyes are back on the road ahead. That’s without considering normal stopping distances, i.e. it takes twice as far to stop at 50 MPH as it does when travelling at 70 MPH.

Any handling of a mobile phone or any electronic device for that matter should be made illegal, not just when interacting with another person via the device. Without changing the law to reflect the vast leap in technology since 2003, a mockery will be made of the current system.

How many footballers are we now going to see claiming they were ‘filming’ themselves instead of texting or calling on their phones? The Barreto defence could soon be used throughout the land to get people out of points and a fine. A new legal grey area is just starting to emerge.

This could quickly be plugged though without a change, as motorists could still face being prosecuted with careless or even dangerous driving. Both can have far more severe consequences.

You only need to look around you in traffic to see the number of people who think it’s acceptable to message and drive. Humans aren’t great at multitasking at the best of times, doing so while in control of two tons of metal really isn’t a good idea. Your licence, life or an innocent person’s isn’t worth replying instantly. Think about it.

"That’s without considering normal stopping distances, i.e. it takes twice as far to stop at 50 MPH as it does when travelling at 70 MPH." Really? The laws of motion seem to have changed since I passed my driving test :) Seriously, though, it all depends. Driving without due care and attention and causing an accident is just that, and it depends on the circumstances. Filming an accident when you're crawling along at 2mph and are well aware of what's going on around doesn't strike me as a problem.

Good legal decision, and a bad CPS/police decision on the prosecution choice. Using a mobile phone is just a specific case of rule 148 of the Highway Code “Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as eating and drinking" Breaking it attracts fines and points. So all they had to do is charge him with driving without due care and attention if that was the case - and suspect it was. Using the phone was no different to using a camera inappropriately while driving

Unfortunately article doesn't say what speed he was doing. If it was a case of rubber necking with a camera, then he needs prosecuting, as do all rubber neckers! Unfortunately the verdict is being used by the 'lets ban hand free phones as well' zealots who say the law is unclear and needs revising and to include handsfree. The law is perfectly clear on phones, and this case is clearly covered by Driving without due care or attention. The police/CPS are the ones who are at fault here in not knowing the law or didn't use common sense in the matter to get a prosecution.

So what about "not being in full control of the vehicle whist moving?"

I have never used my phone while driving but I don't wear a wristwatch and sometimes check the time using my "pocket watch" (phone) but only when the traffic is light, something I felt I should give up, clearly the outcome of the above case means I can continue to check the time on my "pocket watch".

I never use my phone when driving. However, I have moved it from a car pocket to a passenger, so they could make a call. Since the wallet that it is in covers the phone screen and I can perform the action without taking my eyes off the road, it isn't "using" a mobile phone. However, the Law is unnecessarily restrictive. If you are stuck in a traffic jam (It has been stationary for minutes), your vehicle is out of gear and the handbrake is on, You are still not allowed to make a call to say you will be late!. - The "jobsworths" win, even though there is no way that the vehicle can cause harm.