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Can you ride while using your mobile phone?

12 October 2010
by blondwig

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)

9 Comments leave one →
  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

  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!

  3. 16 September 2011 12:00

    I think that if you have to ask the question, there’s a problem. Cycling in urban areas is always a precarious business. There is always a chance of a pet, small child, adult pedestrian, other cyclist or major pothole wandering into you path – and talking on a phone cannot do anything but reduce your chances of reacting sensibly. And it is never necessary – so why do it? Wherever you are you can simply dismount and take the call. Stop, get off, answer phone. Easy.

    If your life is so pressured that you can’t dismount to make/receive your phone call, you might need to think about your priorities. Even if you are a multi-taking genius, anyone else in the vicinity is going to be alarmed at your apparent lack of consideration and care for others’ welfare.

  4. blondwig permalink*
    18 October 2011 18:12

    It’s been reported that a cyclist has been convicted of cycling carelessly in Cambridge after he pulled across a road to turn right, without looking behind, and knocked over a motorcyclist who was overtaking him.

    The cyclist was wearing headphones at the time, but it’s not clear to what extent that contributed to the court’s finding that he had been careless.

    Interestingly, the prosecuting officer is quoted as saying that “if cyclists are going to wear headphones we advise them to keep the volume at a sensible level and take extra care on the roads”. I wonder whether the local police take the same view of dial-and-riding, which is perhaps similar in terms of distraction.

    The cyclist was fined £200 and ordered to pay an additional £315 in other costs. The case illustrates a point I’ve made before: if you injure somebody, prosecution for cycling offences becomes more likely.

Trackbacks

  1. Is it illegal to undertake other cyclists? « UKcyclerules
  2. When do you have to give your details? « UKcyclerules
  3. Who has priority on shared paths? | UK Cycle Rules - information on cycling law in England and Wales

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