Few sentenced for using mobile phone behind the wheel

There is a ban on using mobile phones while driving in Sweden, but it only applies if it affects the driving negatively. Two years have passed since the ban was introduced, but the number of people who are sentenced is going down, and police complain that the law is difficult to apply.

When the law was introduced in december 2013, it was criticised for being toothless. Why not a complete ban against using a mobile phone while driving? asked the critics. Instead the law says you can use mobile phones and other communication equipment, if it does not affect the driving significantly for the worse.

Swedish Television has reviewed all the cases that have gone to court where this law has been applied. What most cases have in common is that witnesses have seen a car swerve over the road, or a slow moving car where the driver suddenly accelerates seemingly without reason, before noticing that the driver is using the mobile phone behind the wheel.

But still, it is difficult for police to prove that it is the use of the phone that causes the sudden swerve or otherwise peculiar way of driving. That is according to Fredrik Ståhle, head of the traffic police in Stockholm.

"The law is toothless, it is really hard to work on the basis of that law," he told Swedish Television News.

In the UK, police is allowed to take the mobile phone out of the driver's hand to check for technical evidence of whether it has recently been used to make a phone call or send a text. But in Sweden, the police do not have similar powers. If the driver denied any wrong doing, it is up to the court to decide, and then it is not certain that a police statement or other witness statements are enough to prove that it is the use of the phone that has caused the bad driving.

Most people who are stopped by the police do however admit that they have been using the phone, and are then issued with a fine straight away, usually amounting to 2000 SEK. In 2014, 52 drivers owned up to their mobile phone use straight away and were fined. 33 drivers denied and ended up in court. Last year, a few more were fined, 60 drivers. But fewer were taken to court, only 16 drivers. Ten of them were fined, three let off while another three cases are still ongoing.

Fredrik Ståhle with the Stockholm traffic police now calls for a change in the law.

"Why not just ban it completely? It would be much easier, especially if we police officers are to monitor this. I think we would avoid many accidents if we did," he told SVT.