When the law keeps pace with technology – mobile devices and driving

From June 2018, there is to be a significant development in relation to the use of mobile technology for drivers and users of motor vehicles. As it stands, the law prohibits a driver of a motor vehicle using a telephone or interactive mobile device when driving a motor-vehicle. The Highway code rule 149 emphasizing that a driver “must exercise proper control of…the vehicle at all times….[and]…must not use a handheld mobile phone, or similar device when driving”.

Why is Remote Control Car Parking such a complex legal issue?

For obvious reasons, it was accepted that there is a real danger of drivers being distracted by the use of mobile technology and handheld devices. Quite properly, the law has been updated over previous years to ensure that it does not on unduly restrict technological advances whilst also ensuring safe driving and responsible driver behavior. It is often a challenge for legislative changes to keep up with technological advances.

However, the clear advancement in technological improvements to facilitate and progress road safety have led to manufacturers developing in-car safety systems, such as advanced driver systems (ADAS). These have included adaptive cruise control systems (ACS), advanced emergency braking systems (AEBS) and active Lane keeping assistance (LKS), all of which take full control of the vehicle’s position and speed when being driven at high speeds. However, what remains is that the driver retains overall control of the vehicle and it is their ultimate responsibility to ensure that the use and management of the systems is done safely.

As part of the increased focus on driver safety and automated systems, remote car parking systems have also been developed. Such remote car parking systems (RCP) can be run from a Device provided by the manufacturer of  the vehicle itself or through a manufacturer endorsed application which is then installed on a mobile device, such as a smart phone.

How is the law concerning Remote Control Car Parking changing?

However, as it stands, the installation and use of such a device on a smart phone or mobile device would render its use incompatible with current legislation, such that at the end of 2017, beginning of 2018, the Department for Transport consulted on the need for legislative reform to allow for such technological advances to be implemented.

The consequence of that Consultation is that the legislation has now been amended, effective from the beginning of June 2018, whereby a person will not be in contravention of the provision on the use of a mobile device if that device is being used “to perform a remote controlled parking function of the motor-vehicle… and the mobile telephone or other device only enables the motor-vehicle to be moved where the following conditions are satisfied:

  • There is continuous activation of the remote control application of the telephone or device by the driver;
  • The signal between the motor-vehicle and the telephone or motor-vehicle and the device is maintained; and
  • Distance between the motor-vehicle and the telephone or the motor-vehicle and the device, as appropriate, is not more than 6 m.

The Highway code has also been updated to reflect this legends list to the amendment, with a clear stipulation that the mobile App or device must be legal do use must not put other people in danger at any stage.

It is anticipated that further regulatory changes will be made in the coming years as increased focus is placed upon the automation of driving and the necessity for a robust and safe framework to exist around it. To ensure that such changes are not incompatible with the law and that the law does not unnecessarily frustrate such developments there is a balance that must be carefully managed.