Legal Eagle: What can you do if you see someone using their mobile phone when driving?

Whether responding to that text message that simply can’t wait or just having a chat, there are those who simply can’t resist using their phone while driving.

Sometimes it may appear a victimless crime, while other times it can end in tragedy.

But what can you really do if you witness someone committing this offence? And how do you prove it?

MM have teamed up with Olliers Solicitors, a leading criminal law firm based in Manchester, to answer your questions.


Dear Sirs at Mancunian Matters and Olliers Solicitors,

Please could you answer me this in your paper?

I see people driving all the time while using their mobile phones. Can I report them and would anything happen if I did? And how would I go about it if I were to? Presumably without photographic evidence then it is just my word against theirs?

Thank you for your time.


The law in relation to using a mobile telephone is as follows:

On December 1 2003 The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003, came into force to prohibit drivers using a hand-held mobile phones, or similar device, while driving.

It also made it an offence to ‘cause or permit’ a driver to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, or to use a hand-held mobile phone while supervising a driver who only has a provisional licence.

The penalty for the offence is usually a fixed penalty of three penalty points to be endorsed on your driving licence together with a fine of £100.

However, if the matter goes to court then the court do have the power to give a higher financial penalty of up to £1,000 and/or a discretionary disqualification.

There is no specific definition of ‘using’ however the courts have held.

In addition a person may be regarded as ‘driving’ a vehicle while the engine is running and the vehicle is stationary, even if it is not actually moving.

In relation to your question you could indeed report the matter to the police using the non-emergency number 101.

You would be required to give your details and as much detail in relation to the vehicle as you are able to, for example, the vehicle model, make, registration number and any description of the driver.

If the police decided to follow the matter up they may wish you to give a statement and then ultimately attend court for a trial of the offence should the matter be denied and proceed that far.

Notwithstanding the above in deciding whether or not to bring a prosecution, the police need to consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute and whether or not there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

Clearly it would be in the interests of justice to prosecute, however whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction is debatable. 

Where the evidence comes from a civilian witness (i.e. not a police officer) in the majority of criminal cases this is sufficient and the matter can then be decided by a court where the person prosecuted denies the matter.

However, in minor matters such as this the police tend to only prosecute individuals where the offence has been witnessed by a police officer as this evidence is generally considered to be stronger, especially where the matter proceeds to court

You may recall that a number of celebrities have been photographed driving whilst using a mobile phone which has then appeared in the press, for example, Jeremy Clarkson in 2008.

However, in the majority of these cases prosecutions have not follow for the reasons given above.

In summary therefore, it is unlikely that an individual would be prosecuted for driving whilst using a mobile telephone in a case where the evidence comes from a non-police officer.

However, there is nothing to stop you from reporting the matter to the police.

Do you have a question for the legal team at Olliers Solicitors? 

Their specialist criminal lawyers – including a specialist motor law department – are ready to answer your questions for FREE. All you have to do is email them in to our newsdesk here: newsdesk (at) mancunianmatters (dot) co (dot) uk

Image courtesy of Jim Legans Jr, with thanks

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