Back in 2003 when it first became unlawful to operate a hand-held mobile phone while driving it could not have been foreseen how technology would have reached the stage of cars having built in touch screens, access to regular phone apps, and satellite navigation by phone.
Mobile phones have become so popular now, many people wouldn’t know what to do without their precious device, which often contains our lives, family photos and videos, and calendars. Most motor vehicle manufacturers these days build cars which are capable of achieving the legal definition of hands-free driving.
The proposals published today for consideration of now making it an offence to make any calls whether hands free or not have generated significant publicity.
Little consideration has been given for the practicalities of the police trying to enforce such a law.
What if there are multiple people in the car and the phone is in the passenger’s pocket, but connected through the vehicle, a call is made/accepted, is an offence committed? And as driving defence lawyers we would consider the likely difficulties in prosecuting those cases.
What about if the passenger is a child? Of course lots of children have phones and are more than capable of making calls. What if an officer simply sees a driver who appears to be speaking? How does he prove that it was a call being made rather than he or she singing along to their favourite song? Is it the intention of the police to conduct a forensic examination of the mobile phone device to prove that a call was being made?
Any legislation would need precision in the wording of the offence to avoid many potential pitfalls. If there are many road traffic collisions being caused by distracted drivers being on calls at the time then there are already general offences that can be prosecuted for, including driving without due care and attention or dangerous driving. One might think the issue is less with the law, than maybe it is with the public’s perception of how safe it is to talk and drive at the same time. Drivers like to think we are fully concentrating on the road at all times, but whether it is singing along to the radio, an incessant passenger picking our brains or a child crying in the back seat, we are often distracted to varying degrees.
The Crown Prosecutors guidance explains all the related offences.
In any event, the complete solution is probably not too far in the distant future, perhaps within the next decade. Fully automated self-driving motor vehicles would negate not only mobile phone driving offences, but all driving offences including drink driving, etc.
Until then, whether car manufacturers would disable vehicles accepting and making hands free calls whilst the vehicles are moving would be debatable. But potentially the unintended consequences of drivers then making non-hands free calls, and breaking the law to continue to use their mobile phone whilst driving, which could potentially be more distracting and even more dangerous than before.
What is the solution? Let us know your views. Tweet us @BurtonCopeland