Smartphones and driving: when is a phone not a phone?

The rules on using a mobile phone while driving may be set to change, following the successful appeal against a conviction of a driver who used the camera on his phone to film a car accident.

View from a car window while driving

In 2017, builder Ramsey Barreto was was stopped by police in West London after using his phone to film the scene of a serious car accident as he drove past. He was charged for using his mobile phone while driving and convicted in July 2018.

However, he appealed the conviction on the basis that the law only prohibits the use of a mobile device for communication purposes – it does not specifically prohibit the use of a mobile phone to shoot video footage while driving.

In July 2019, two High Court judges decided to uphold the Crown Court’s decision to overturn the conviction, clearing Mr Barreto of the offence.

What does this mean for drivers?

The High Court judgment clearly explains that this is not a ‘green light’ for motorists to use their mobile phones in any capacity whilst driving. Indeed, drivers who are caught using their mobile phones for any other reason can still be charged with the serious offences of dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention.

Also, the rules for using a hand-held mobile phone for communication purposes while driving have not changed. Making or receiving calls (without a hands-free device), sending or receiving text messages and accessing internet services while driving are all still illegal, and can result in up to six penalty points and a £200 fine.

What the ruling does show is that legislation developed in a pre-smartphone era is no longer fit for purpose, and it is likely that we will see a change in the law as a result of this case. Now, our mobile phones are so much more than simple communication devices – they are our sat navs, our music libraries and our video cameras – and the law surrounding their safe and appropriate use at the wheel needs to change accordingly.

> Read our full guide to the law on using your mobile phone while driving
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