Device creep

Interesting story from a colleague at lunchtime. His son — a young man — was driving in London for the first time. While stopped at a traffic light, he consulted a map on his smartphone. When the lights changed, he put the phone on the seat beside him and drove off — only to find himself being pursued by a police car with lights flashing. He pulls over and Constable Plod sucks his pencil and informs him that, under the Road Traffic Act 1988, Sections 2 & 3 and Construction & Use Regulations, Regulation 104 and 110, he has committed an offence. The punishment: £60 file and three penalty points on his licence — which, given that he is a young man, can be seriously damaging to his prospects of being able to rent a car.

He wasn’t, of course, using his phone as a phone but as a data device that happens to be able to display maps. And his car was stationary at the time, while he waited for the traffic-lights to change. But, according to Law on The Web,

The term “driving” has a very wide definition in motoring law matters. You can generally still be considered to be driving, even if you are stationary, sitting in your vehicle off the road, but with your engine running. Turning off your engine may be enough to prevent a successful prosecution.

If you are stuck in a traffic jam, then again you are still driving your car as far the police are concerned and you open up yourself to prosecution if you use your mobile phone other than through a hands-free kit. Every case is different and it is very difficult to lay down hard and fast guidelines.
Using a mobile phone

Most policemen believe that if they see you with your mobile phone or PDA in your hand while driving your car, then you have committed the offence of using a mobile phone while driving.

For there to be “use” of the phone there has to be some form of interaction with the device – so looking to see who is calling, or looking up a number, or dialling a number, as well as, of course, speaking or texting someone with it.

So far so bad (or good, depending on your point of view). It gets interesting when you ask whether the lad would have been prosecuted if he had been engaged in jabbing a postcode into a TomTom sat-nav device? The answer, apparently, is no. Why? Because the TomTom is not a phone.

But then, asked Quentin (who was also at lunch), what happens if — as Q does — you happen to have the TomTom app installed on your iPhone?

It’s gets murkier and murkier, the more you think about it. For example, it would be ok to use an iPad, because that isn’t a phone (even though you can put a SIM card into it and use it for mobile data), but not a Samsung Galaxy Tab, which happens to be able to make phone calls.