Scotland's Road Safety Framework

The Department for Transport (DfT) recently ran a consultation looking at closing a loophole in the law meaning activities such as taking photos/videos, playing a game and checking notifications will now be prohibited whilst behind the wheel. The law currently states that the handheld mobile phone offence is only triggered when a driver is holding a mobile phone in their hand and communicating with another person through voice call, texting, email or communicating with the internet.

Under the new legislation the following activities will be classed under the revised offence;

  • Illuminate the screen
  • Unlock the device
  • Checking the time
  • Check notifications
  • Rejecting a call
  • Compose text messages or e-mails to save in drafts
  • Take photos or videos
  • Use the phone’s camera as a mirror
  • Search for music stored on the phone
  • Search for photos or other images stored in the phone
  • Dictate voice messages into the phone
  • Read a book downloaded on the phone
  • Play a game downloaded on the phone

What was the consultation proposing?

The mobile phone has come a long way since the creation of the mobile phone offence. It is equally dangerous for a driver to use a hand-held mobile phone to search for music stored on the phone or to record video footage while driving. Currently, these “standalone” functions can lead to enforcement action by the police but not under the handheld mobile phone offence.

The police may choose to take action under the offence of “not in proper control” of the vehicle. The penalty for “not in proper control” offence is not as tough as the dedicated mobile phone offence. This weakens the tough stance taken by the Government on penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

In addition to the above there is proposals to introduce a new exemption to using a hand-held mobile phone while driving offence to allow drivers to make contactless payments using a mobile phone at appropriate locations, for example at drive through food outlets.

By strengthening the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal, in a wider range of circumstances will ensure police can take immediate action if they see a driver using a phone at the wheel, bolstering current police powers to tackle this behaviour.

Link to the consultation:

The DfT consultation closed on 17 January 2021 and the responses are currently being analysed with an outcome expected soon. You can read what was included in the full consultation here;

Using a mobile phone while driving: consultation on changing the law (