The short answer? Never! A successful appeal by a driver who used the camera on his phone to film a car accident in 2018 changed the rules for using your smartphone while driving for a brief moment. However, a new law has come into effect changing the rules again.
CAN SMARTPHONES BE USED UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES?
You may have heard that it is technically not illegal to use your smartphone as long as you are not using it to communicate. As of March 25, 2022, this is no longer the case. The idea stems from a case that started in 2017.
WHAT WAS THE CASE?
Builder Ramsey Barreto was stopped by police in West London in 2017 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 prohibited the use of a mobile device for communication purposes – it did 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 DID THIS MEAN FOR DRIVERS AT THE TIME?
The High Court judgment clearly explained that this was not a ‘green light’ for motorists to use their mobile phones in any capacity whilst driving. Indeed still after the case, drivers who were caught using their mobile phones for any other reason could still be charged with the serious offences of dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention.
The ruling showed that the law regarding mobile phones was developed in the pre-smartphone era. Our devices are now so much more than simple communication devices – they are our sat navs, our music libraries and our video cameras and so much more.
NEW LEGISLATION ON MARCH 25, 2022
On March 25, 2022 the law surrounding smartphones’ safe and appropriate use at the wheel has been changed.
The change in legislation (Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, Sections 110(1) and (2)) was necessary to reflect the new capabilities of smartphones and the way we use phones today.
The penalty for being convicted of using a hand-held device while driving carries six points and a £200 fine.
In addition to the old legislation prohibiting holding your device in your hand to make or receive calls, messages or use the internet, it is now completely forbidden to use your hand-held device while driving. This includes taking photos and videos, scrolling through playlists etc. Anything that requires you to touch your device is now illegal whilst driving.
You can still use your device as a satnav and make hands-free calls – however, it must be in a hands-free holder, and you shouldn’t touch it whilst driving.
These rules also apply if you’re supervising a learner driver or stopped in traffic. In general, if you need to make a call you should pull over to do so even if it’s hand-free.
The same goes if you need to adjust the route on your navigation app whilst driving or change the song on your playlist.
> Read our full guide to the law on using your mobile phone while driving
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