Smartphone Court Win Raises Connected Car Challenges

A smartphone user’s courtroom victory in the UK could raise some serious issues for the future of connected cars.

Despite opening filming a road traffic collision on his phone, 51-year-old builder Ramsey Baretto saw his conviction for using a mobile device while driving overturned by the High Court on a technicality. He had been charged under the existing law of using telecommunications while driving but, his lawyers argued, filming does not fall into the interpretation of the wording. Lady Justice Thirlwall agreed, stating: “The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving.”

This does raise the specter of exactly what consumers will be able to engage in when driving vehicles in autonomous mode at Level 4 and above. Naturally, already legislation in most countries would have to be changed to allow ‘handsfree’ steering by the vehicle. The use of telecommunications equipment while in this mode will also have to be addressed and poses some serious questions.

Customer engagement with on-board connected car services has been very slow and with most preferring to use their personal devices instead of the car’s infotainment system. So, with Level 4 enabled vehicle for example, the temptation to use the device when steering by the car is legal may still be an offence, especially if the law is tightened to include all use of mobile devices by the driver as UK safety groups are calling for.

Road safety and breakdown organization GEM Motoring Assist is urging the UK government to update the wording of its law. Road safety officer Neil Worth said: “The government’s failure to bring legislation up to date is putting lives at risk. We now have an absurd situation where the wording of the law is insufficient and cumbersome, only stating ‘interactive communication’ as an illegal use of a mobile phone when driving, when we know it is clearly unsafe to use your mobile phone for any purpose when driving.”

It’s possible this stance will also extend to arguing that distraction by using a mobile device, currently being blamed for an increase in fatal vehicle collisions in the US, could interfere with the hand-over sequence between full autonomous mode and manual mode in a Level 4 vehicle, adding another legal obstacle to early adoption of the technology.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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