Government urged to update ‘mobile phone while driving’ laws

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Government urged to update ‘mobile phone while driving’ laws

The government has been urged to update the laws about driving while using a mobile phone, after a motorist had his conviction overturned.

Ramsey Barreto, a 51-year-old builder from west London, was convicted for using his phone while driving.  The High Court overturned the decision because he was using his phone to film a collision. 

The law states that an offence is committed only if a driver uses a handheld mobile phone for ‘interactive communication’.  However, this law dates back to 2003, before the smart phone became so widespread.

“The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving,” Lady Justice Thirlwall said.  However, she also acknowledged that, despite this, drivers who used a mobile phone behind the wheel, for any purpose, could still be prosecuted for more serious offences such as careless or dangerous driving.

Commenting on press coverage of the story which suggested that motorists could have their convictions overturned, Andrew Perry, a solicitor for Road Safety Support, said: “Contrary to what is claimed, there is no automatic right to reverse any conviction, be it by guilty plea or after trial, when the High Court gives its interpretation of the law. 

“The law was taken to be as people assumed it was or were advised that it was, at the point of conviction.  Those who paid a fixed penalty to avoid court have no recourse. Those who pleaded guilty waived their opportunity to contest the case based on exactly what use they were making of the phone.”

Neil Worth, a Road Safety Officer for GEM Motoring Assist, commented: “Although the penalties have increased, the specific wording of the law has not changed for 16 years.  We are urging the government to update the legislation.  This will ensure it is fit for purpose, and will avoid further compromise to road safety.”

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