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Hands free or Scot free?

This article appeared in the July 2010 edition of First for Business magazine.

In today’s gadget filled world, drivers have a multitude of devices capable of distracting them from the job of actually driving the car. Mobile phones, ipods, Sat Nav, CD multi-changers and Internet Capable Smart Phones all provide potential distractions and increase the risk of the driver being caught and charged with a motoring offence.

David Staniforth is a partner at Norrie Waite & Slater solicitors in Sheffield and a specialist in defending motoring charges for drivers. Here he outlines the current laws relating to using these devices whilst driving.

Driving whilst using a mobile phone

The penalties for mobile phone offencesdriving offences have been increased recently to try and get across how seriously the law now considers them.

If the Police suspect you to be using a hand held phone whilst driving, for instance due to witnessing poor driving, they could take you to Court and get hold of your mobile phone records to match up the time of the alleged offence with the calls on your records. The use of a mobile phone includes texting as well as making phone calls, in fact the courts see texting as being more serious.

The penalty, if convicted, is 3 penalty points and a fine of up to £1,000 for car drivers or up to £2,500 for HGV and passenger vehicle drivers.

In addition to this you may face disqualification if you already have 9 or more points on your licence, under what is know as ‘totting up’ of penalty points.

If you are involved in an accident as a result of using a mobile phone whilst driving, you may face a more serious charge such as careless driving or dangerous driving.

Careless driving / Driving without due care and attention

Although the law does not set out exactly what constitutes driving without due care and attention, a typical example of what may be considered to be careless driving is not paying enough attention to the road because you were distracted by changing a CD. This means that the Police have a broad scope to charge you with this offence for any activity which is causing the standard of your driving to have fallen below the standard which would be expected of a reasonable and careful driver.

Driving without due care and attention can carry a penalty of a fine plus between a 3 and 9 point licence endorsement or disqualification for a fixed period.

Charges of careless driving are often brought following an accident where the police have attended at some stage.

Dangerous driving

Dangerous driving is a much more serious offence than careless driving. It can include things such as a consistent lack of attention to the road, which may be through use of a mobile phone or some other distraction whilst driving the vehicle.

The penalty, if convicted, can be between 3 and 11 penalty points and an automatic disqualification for a minimum of 12 months. In addition to this you may be sentenced to prison for up to 2 years. Once convicted you also have to take an extended re-test before you are allowed to drive again.

Clearly, the law looks upon these offences very seriously and the effects of a potential driving disqualification can be huge, including the inability to continue your current employment and the negative impact that not being allowed to drive can have on your family life.

If you have been charged with any of the above offences you will require a solicitor with the experience and specialist knowledge of motoring law required to mount a compelling defence. This may include showing any mitigating factors that exist.

David Staniforth can also assist if you have been charged with speeding, drink driving or if you face disqualification under the totting up rules.

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