Clause 22 - Breach of requirements as to control of vehicle, mobile telephones etc.

Part of Road Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 11:15 am, 27th January 2005

The amendment is unnecessary. I am not aware of any driver being prosecuted for the situation described by the hon. Member's amendment; namely, failing to have proper control of a vehicle when using a hand-held mobile phone if they are stationary with the engine switched off. In such a situation we do not need to be as prescriptive as the hon. Member suggests. In fact, if a motorist receives a phone call and wants to take it, we advise that they pull over to the side of the road, where it is safe, turn off the engine and return the call. The term ''driving'', to which the hon. Member referred, is used in much road traffic legislation without further definition.

It is appropriate for the courts to take into account the circumstances of the case when deciding if an offence has been committed, rather than us trying to set that out in legislation. For instance, if a traffic light went red as a motorist approached it and they   momentarily turned off the engine, I would not consider that to be the right time to use a mobile phone. However, if someone is stuck in a five-mile tailback because of an accident on the motorway and all the vehicles around them are stationary with their engines turned off, clearly it is fine to use a mobile phone, because the motorist is not about to drive off. Ultimately, it is not for the Department to interpret the law. It must be for the police officer on the spot to decide whether an offence has been committed. If a driver wishes to contest that, he has the chance to do so in court. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment. It is not necessary and any sensible person would recognise that if the car is stationary and the engine is turned off, no offence will be committed.