Using a handheld phone while driving

The UK has somewhat strange laws when it comes to using a handheld phone while driving. A new law coming into force doesn’t completely fix that, but does at least close a silly loophole…

It’s illegal in the UK to use a handheld mobile phone while driving, due to the proven crash risks. The loophole arises because the legislation predates the mass use of smartphones, so defines a phone as a device “which performs an interactive communication.” As TNW reports, this meant it was possible for someone playing a game on a phone to claim that it wasn’t, at the moment of use, an interactive communication device.

Before these new laws it was fine to cruise whilst playing Candy Crush, but not ok to drive and text at the same time, despite the level of distraction being largely the same. The update will consider anyone that picks up their handheld device whilst driving to be breaking the law. I officially recognize this as the closure of the ‘Candy Crush loophole.’

MacRumors notes that this loophole has also been exploited by people shooting video while driving.

For example, in 2019 Ramsey Barreto was found guilty of using his phone to film a crash in north London two years ago, but the 51-year-old successfully appealed against the conviction.

Two High Court judges subsequently criticized the 16-year-old law on using mobile phones, which they said had failed to evolve with the rise of smartphones.

BBC News reports that this will change next year.

It will become illegal for anyone to pick up and use their mobile phone while driving, under new legislation to be enacted next year.

The change will end a loophole that can allow drivers to escape punishment for using a handheld phone to take a photo or play a game […]

Roads minister Baroness Vere said handheld phone use behind the wheel was ‘distracting and dangerous’ and that ‘for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment’ […]

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Roads Policing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, said: ‘Using a mobile phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and being distracted at the wheel can change lives forever.

‘Police will take robust action against those using a handheld mobile phone illegally and proposals to make the law clearer are welcome.’

That does leave one other oddity: The law doesn’t distinguish between a moving and stationary vehicle. So if you pick up your phone to check a message at a red traffic light, with the car in neutral and the handbrake on, you commit the same offense as if you’d done it while driving on a busy road at 70 mph. That is not being changed.

In 2017, Apple played its part in reducing the likelihood of using a phone while driving, satisfying one of our feature requests for automatic replies to text messages.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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