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Sweden: Charges Brought Under New Provision on Driving While Using Cellphones

(Dec. 13, 2013) On December 1, 2013, an amendment to the Swedish Traffic Regulation entered into force. Under the new provision, a cellphone or other communications device (such as a GPS) may only be used while driving if it does not negatively affect the driver’s ability to drive the vehicle. (4 ch. 10e §SFS 1998:1276 Trafikförordning [Traffic Regulation], NOTISUM.SE.) Violations of the provision, independent of intent, are punished by the imposition of monetary fines. (Id. 14 ch. 6 §.)

Charges were brought on December 6 against a woman who, on the day following the law change, spoke on her cellphone while trying to drive her vehicle into a parking lot. Preoccupied with her cellphone, she veered into the path of oncoming traffic that was exiting the lot. There was no collision, as the other driver managed to apply the brakes just in time to prevent an accident. The woman is denying the charge. (Anna Persson,Fem dagar efter lagändringen – kvinna åtalas för trafikosäker mobilanvändning bakom ratten [Five Days Following the Law Change Woman Charged for Unsafe Cellphone Use Behind the Wheel], DAGENS JURIDIK (Dec. 7, 2013).)

The new provision notwithstanding, a person using a cellphone while driving may still be charged with the more serious crimes of negligence in traffic and aggravated negligence in traffic if the cellphone use can be found to make the person criminally negligent. (1 § Lag om Straff för vissa trafikbrott [Law on Punishment for Certain Traffic Violations],SFS 1951:649, NOTISUM.SE.)

Prior to the adoption of the new provision, charges for the negative impact on a driver’s ability to drive a vehicle while using a cellphone use were brought under the offense of negligence in traffic, punishable by day fines; a day fine is calculated based on a percentage of the person’s daily wages for a set period of time. (Therese Åkerlund, Använde mobiltelefonen under bilfärd – döms för vårdslöshet i trafik [Used Cellphone While Driving – Convicted of Negligence in Traffic], DAGENS JURIDIK (Oct. 19, 2012).) The main difference under the new provision is that an accident need not have happened in order for the police to intervene, whereas charges of negligence in traffic always involve an accident. (SMS:a bakom ratten kan ge böter — på söndag skärps reglerna för mobilanvädning i trafiken [Texting Behind the Wheel May Result in Fines on Sunday as the Rules for Cellphone Use in Traffic are Tightened ], DAGENS JURIDIK (Nov. 29, 2013).)