The prohibitions on using a hand-held mobile telephone or other hand-held interactive communication device when driving, or causing or permitting the driving of a motor vehicle by another person using such a telephone or other device, has been on the statute books for over 10 years and the penalties involve more than a “slap on the wrist” with a fine of up to £2500 if driving an HGV, three points on the driver’s licence and a discretion to disqualify. As of the 1st of March the fixed penalty tariff for this offence has been doubled up to £200, highlighting the seriousness of the offence, the number of points on the driver’s licence will double to six.
To justify the use of a mobile (and thereby avoid a penalty), a court will need to be satisfied that the driver was:
using the telephone or other device to call the police, fire, ambulance or other emergency service on 112 or 999; or
acting in response to a genuine emergency; and that
it was unsafe or impracticable for the driver to cease driving in order to make the call.
In addition, HGV operators and their drivers should be aware that convictions for mobile phone use are required to be reported to the Traffic Commissioner and it would be wise to take account of the Senior Traffic Commissioner’s Statutory Document on Vocational Driver Conduct which states that:
The practice of vocational licence holders using a hand-held mobile phone and other electronic devices, and especially while driving a HGV or PSV, is unacceptable and presents an undue risk to road safety. A report for an offence that a vocational driver has used a hand-held device while driving will trigger the action set out in Annex A.
The presiding Traffic Commissioner will be keen to ascertain the reason the driver is using a hand-held device. In cases where drivers are speaking with their employers or their customers, the Traffic Commissioner may consider the effect this might have upon the operator’s repute.
Annex A, the Traffic Commissioner’s reference point for a first conviction (code CU80) in a commercial vehicle for a driver with no previous adverse conduct history is to call the driver to a Driver Conduct Hearing and to suspend the driver’s vocational entitlement for four weeks which in many instances will be a heavier financial penalty than the fine imposed by a magistrates’ court.
The penalties involving the use of mobiles may well not stop here. Where the use of a mobile contributes to careless or dangerous driving, the penalties are far higher, and for such driving that causes serious injury or death custodial sentences often follow.