Use of mobile phone consultation - we want your views

Farmer using a mobile phone, digital, yearbook, March

The government is consulting on proposals to extend the scope of the offence of using a mobile phone while driving to include standalone functions, as well as interactive communication functions. The NFU is preparing a response to the consultation and values feedback from members on this topic.

About the consultation

Mobile phones are an essential part of everyday life, but research studies have shown that using a phone while driving is distracting. The distraction causes slower reaction time to events, increased time when eyes are off the road, increased number of crashes and near misses and increased crash injury severity. To help control the risks it became an offence to use a handheld mobile phone for interactive communication while driving in 2003.

The current law

Under current law it is only an offence to use a mobile phone driving when:

  1. The driver is holding a mobile phone in their hand
  2. Performing a function which involves ‘interactive communication’

Interactive communication means communicating with another person through voice calls, texting, or email. It also includes communicating with the internet (e.g. looking at a website).

Mobile phones can be used for other purposes in addition to interactive communication. Phones can store music. They can be used as a video recording device. Using a phone to carry out stand alone functions such as searching for music is equally distracting and dangerous as using a device for interactive communication, but, as they do not need the internet or involve communication with another person they are not covered by the current mobile phone offence.

Activities currently within the offence – ‘interactive communications’

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

  • Make a phone call
  • Receive a phone call
  • Send a text message
  • Send an email
  • Access social media
  • Access streaming services

Proposed changes

The government is proposing to widen the existing offence of using a handheld mobile phone while driving so that it covers drivers who are performing stand alone functions as well as drivers performing interactive communication functions.

The new offence will only cover phones held in the hand while driving. Phones positioned and used while in a cradle (e.g. as a satnav) will not be included.

Activities that will be included under the revised offence:

Driver holds the mobile phone or similar device to:

  • Illuminate the screen
  • Unlock the device
  • Check the time
  • Check notifications
  • Reject a call
  • Compose text messages or emails to save in drafts
  • Take photos or videos
  • Use the phone’s camera as a mirror
  • Search for stored music
  • Search for photos or other images
  • Dictate voice messages into the phone
  • Read a book downloaded on the phone
  • Play a game downloaded on the phone

What devices will be covered by the new offence?

Under the proposals mobile phones and other handheld interactive communication devises will be included, and the offence will be triggered when they are used, even if the device is not connected and enabled to send or receive data.

Help us to respond to the consultation by answering these questions:

  • Do you agree with the proposal to extend the handheld mobile phone offences to cover ‘standalone’ functions?
  • Do you think that they are other mobile functions not listed that should be included in the offence?
  • Do you agree that any device which is capable of interactive communication is included in the offence even if the capability is not enabled?

Exemptions

The government proposes that devices used to make a contactless payment for goods or services that are supplied or provided immediately will be exempted. To qualify vehicles must be stationary at the time of payment.

Question

  • Do you agree with the proposal to exempt drivers from the handheld mobile phone offence if they are making a contactless payment for immediate goods and services whilst stationary?

Any members who wish to contribute should send their comments to Tom Price here by no later than 19 December 2020.

A copy of the consultation is available here.

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