Legal loophole’s impact on number caught using phone behind the wheel
PUBLISHED: 07:30 18 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:48 18 September 2020
A legal loophole has caused police ‘significant challenges’ around enforcing the ban on drivers using a mobile phone.
A High Court ruling last July had an ‘undoubted impact’ on the number of traffic offence reports (TORs) handed out, a report said.
Suffolk Constabulary said it remained committed to tackling crime on the roads and reducing serious collisions by targeting the ‘fatal four’ offences of drink and drug driving, not wearing a seatbelt, mobile phone use and speeding.
A Police and Crime Plan report said restrictions on movement, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, had led to a fall in crashes and fatal four offending.
In the 12 months to the end of May, collisions causing death or serious injury fell by 7.4% to 266 against a three-year average.
Meanwhile, the number of TORs issued for mobile phone use fell by 79.5% to 206.
A report presented to the police and crime commissioner’s accountability and performance panel said the number of TORs had continued to fall nationally – in part due to new cars coming equipped with integrated communication systems.
It said: “In addition, in July 2019 the High Court dismissed the DPP’s (Director of Public Prosecutions) appeal regarding a mobile phone offence which had been heard in both magistrates and crown courts (DPP v Baretto).
“The court ruled in favour of the defendant, who had said he was using a phone as a camera.
“The court determined that the ‘use’ of the phone must be as a communication device to make calls, text etc. As a result, officers were instructed that they are required to show what a phone is being used for.
“The Transport Secretary has announced plans to tighten up this legislation and close any potential ‘loopholes’. However, currently this presents significant challenges to enforcing this offence.
“While this has undoubtedly had an impact on the number of mobile phone specific TORs issued, it has also meant that officers have considered and enforced other offences linked to mobile phone usage, such as not being in proper control of a motor vehicle.”
In November, the government pledged to close a loophole which allowed some drivers to escape prosecution.
Further proposals were expected to be in place by spring.
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