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Can you ride while using your mobile phone?

12 October 2010

Road.cc recently posted this article about the Met police ‘crackdown’ on cyclists using their mobile phones on the London cycle superhighways. The article pointed out that there’s no law banning you from talking on your mobile while you’re cycling.

They also pointed out that Boris Johnson has written in support of dial-and-riding. True to his word, he’s also been filmed in the act.

I thought I’d check whether this really is completely legal, or whether the Mayor might be riding rather close to the wind.

The ban

Road.cc are right that the ban on driving while using a hand-held mobile only applies to motor vehicles – so it doesn’t prevent you talking on your mobile on a bike, nor on an e-bike. (RVCUR, r. 110; RTA s. 189(1)(c))

There is no other legislation which specifically bans using a mobile on your bike. So far, Boris is right.

Other offences

The big question, though, is whether you might commit the offences of careless cycling or inconsiderate cycling if you ride while talking on your mobile. You’ll commit careless cycling if you ride on a road without due care and attention. Alternatively you can commit inconsiderate cycling if you ride on a road without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road. (RTA s. 29)

For both offences, the test is whether you exercised the degree of care to be expected of a reasonable and competent cyclist. If not, you’re in trouble.  (RTA s. 29; Simpson v Peat [1952] 2 QB 24, 27; Dilks v Bowman-Shaw [1981] RTR 4, 9)

If you’re caught dial-and-riding, whether you were exercising the necessary degree of care is likely to depend on the circumstances. The courts take into account various things, such as:

  • Whether you’ve broken any of the rules in the Highway Code. At the moment, it looks like riding a bike while on the phone isn’t itself a breach of the Highway Code – rule 146, which discusses using a mobile, uses language which doesn’t seem to catch cycles (and cites legislation which doesn’t apply to cycles). (Highway Code, r. 146; RTA s. 38(7))
  • What kind of road you were on, and how much traffic was around. (MacPhail v Haddow [1990] SLT 100)
  • Whether there were dangers around which you wouldn’t have been able to react to because you were on the phone. (Rae v Friel [1993] SLT 791, 793)

If you’re cycling along on the phone, but you’re on a quiet road, you’re still paying attention and capable of cycling normally and obeying the rules, you’re probably ok. Looking at the video above, Boris is probably in the clear (for that street at least), although if the people filming him were spilling out from the pub onto the street, it might have been different.

If you’re not paying attention, can’t keep control of the bike with just one hand, or are causing inconvenience to other traffic or pedestrians, you could be committing one of the offences.

The same might be true if you’re on a very busy road and (for example) might need to brake suddenly, but couldn’t because you only had one hand on your handlebars – you might be committing one of the offences. This could explain the Met police’s attitude towards the cycle superhighways (or parts of them), since they run alongside some fairly busy roads.

It’s a grey area, and (as above) depends on the circumstances.  If you feel like you’re taking an appropriate degree of care then that’s some sort of guide, but bear in mind that if the police see you and disagree, there could be trouble.

Penalties

Careless cycling and inconsiderate cycling are not fixed penalty offences – so if the police aren’t satisfied with just giving you a telling-off, they’ll have to prosecute you. (RTOA Sch 3)

As I’ve described above, the law is not particularly clear in this area, so a prosecution is unlikely to be straightforward. Unless someone is hurt, it seems quite unlikely that the police would bother.

If you are prosecuted and convicted of either of these offences, the maximum fine is £1000. (RTOA Sch 2, pt 1)

The position is slightly different if you ride an “electrically assisted” bike – the offences are essentially the same, but you can be convicted under the provisions which apply to cars. You still can’t be given a fixed penalty, but if you’re prosecuted the maximum fine is £5000, and you could get penalty points on your licence and/or be disqualified from driving. (RTA s. 3; RTOA Sch 2 pt 1, Sch 3)

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6 Comments
  1. james parrott permalink
    15 November 2010 07:16

    hi i was riding my push bike and i was on my phone and the police well not the plice it was a community support officer i stopped me and i was gob smacked i didnt think it was illegal to ride useing your mobile,
    i was quite annoyed that they asked for my name and address and d.o.b i had only just come out the park and they stopped me 2 mts out side

    • 15 November 2010 09:46

      hi james – interesting – so what happened next?

  2. Sparky permalink
    16 April 2011 16:35

    Wouldn’t an E-Bike be considered a motor vehicle due to the fact that a motor is present within the vehicle?

    • 17 April 2011 12:15

      hi sparky

      no – there’s a specific statutory provision which says that e-bikes aren’t motor vehicles (RTA s. 189(1)(c)).

      but they do seem to count as ‘mechanically propelled’ vehicles, so they are treated differently in some respects to normal bikes. i intend to cover this in detail fairly soon!

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