Proposed legal changes over reading text while driving delayed by 12 months
14 November 2019
The amount of text police drivers can see while a vehicle is moving will not be restricted as was expected to be the case after 31 October this year.
Fitting in-car screens showing anything other than mapping, reversing cameras and vehicle status is banned by Regulation 109 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.
However, since 2012, the Department for Transport has issued temporary authorities (VSOs) to allow police to contravene that regulation while developing regulation-compliant alternatives.
The most recent VSO expired at midnight on 31 October 2019, this would have left officers the wrong side of the law were it not for an 11th hour plea from senior officers for an extension. This was granted just hours before the deadline.
Tim Rogers, deputy secretary of West Midlands Police Federation and the national pursuits and driver training lead, has welcomed the new VSO.
“It is a safety critical adjustment that for the past seven years policing has been on notice for. It is worrying that despite this notice compliant systems are still not ready for use. The Government has granted a further VSO to allow this work to be urgently completed,” he says.
“Police officers undergo rigorous specialist training before being authorised to respond to emergency calls on public roads. The Federation believes the use of text-based communications by drivers in motion, whether they are responding to emergencies or not, is incompatible with police driving techniques, road safety and the duty of care owed to the vehicle crews and the public.
“We do not support the use or development of in-car technology requiring police drivers to read text data while driving. This is a fundamentally unsafe practice risking both our members and people in the communities we serve so I find it frustrating that many forces, despite knowing the previous VSO would expire at the end of October this year, still invested in non-compliant systems and we know the IOPC will quite rightly ask, if there is an accident, what an in-car screen was showing and if the driver was distracted.
“We would like to see an investment in systems that are compliant with Regulation 109 and we are pleased that West Midlands Police is actually working hard to find a suitable solution. But the answer could rest in having double-crewed vehicles so that one officer can be responsible for accessing information and communicating over the radio while the other can concentrate on driving but there are also text to voice software solutions that could be explored too.
“Either way, we feel more should have been done to address these issues over the seven years since the last exemption was issued.”
The new police VSO does not affect the use of any in-car technology while stationary or the use of any in-car technology by a vehicle operator if it is not visible to the driver while the vehicle is moving.