The high court has ruled that using a mobile phone for certain functions while driving is not necessarily illegal.
Ramsey Barreto, 51, was convicted at a magistrates court for using his mobile phone while driving to film a crash in north London in 2017. His conviction was subsequently overturned at crown court last October, when a judge ruled the law did not prevent using a phone to film a video while driving.
That verdict was referred to the high court and two judges have now upheld it. They ruled that laws banning phone use while driving, introduced in the Road Safety Act 2006, do not apply in all cases, because of how the law defines a ‘hand-held mobile telephone’.
The high court ruling judgment read: “The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving. It prohibits driving while using a mobile phone or other device for calls and other interactive communication (and holding it at some stage during that process).”
That means the law, as written, only prohibits use of a hand-held mobile device when it is being used to make a phone call, or other “interactive communication”. That potentially means the law does not prohibit filming a video, taking a photo, playing a game or other functions that don’t require two-way communication.
However, in their conclusion, Justice Thirlwall and Justice Goss stated it “should not be thought that this is a green light for people to make films as they drive”, noting that such behaviour could result in drivers being charged with careless or dangerous driving.
The law banning mobile phone use when driving was written before the widespread take-up of smartphones and it is likely that the loophole uncovered by the ruling could now be closed – although the two high court Justices noted that “whether a review of the regulations is necessary to take account of the myriad current and potentially dangerous uses of a mobile phone or other device while driving is a matter for Parliament, not the courts.”