Hand-held calls to be banned on the road

New
regulations making the use of hand-held phones while driving a criminal offence
will be introduced in a few weeks. Employers who knowingly allow employees to
use hand-held phones to take calls could also face prosecution.

These
developments follow the guidance already provided in the Highway Code. Although
not legally enforceable, the Highway Code (section 127) already warns drivers
not to use hand-held phones while driving. This amendment was made after
research showed that people using mobiles are four times more likely to be
involved in an accident. The general health and safety risks should have
already caused concern for employers.  

In
August 2002, the Department of Transport issued a consultation document on
proposals for the introduction of a new offence relating to the use of
hand-held telephones by drivers. Responses resulted in the decision for new
regulations to be brought into force by 1 December, amending the Road Vehicles
(Construction and Use) Regulations 1986.

Driving,
under the interpretation of the new law, will also include times when the car
is switched on but stationary for short periods – for example, at traffic
lights and during short hold-ups. Phones will be allowed to be used by drivers
caught in serious traffic jams, or in emergency situations where the driver
cannot safely stop to use the phone. The law will apply to all
mechanically-propelled vehicles – including motorcycles. Cyclists, however,
will not be included in the new rules.

Due
to the numerous types of hands-free phones and kits, drivers can only be
prosecuted if they actually hold the phone in their hand during any part of its
operation: for speaking, listening, using the device for accessing data
(including the internet), or sending or receiving text messages or other
images. A phone in its cradle or operated via the steering wheel (or handlebars
of a motorbike) will not breach the new regulations.

The
Department of Transport has made it clear that, ideally, drivers should not use
hands-free phones while driving either. However, this view is not incorporated
within the scope of the new regulations, due to the obvious difficulty of
enforcing it.

An
exception is made in the regulations for two-way radio microphones, as they
have been used for many years without giving rise to road safety concerns (and
concerns were raised by the emergency services, who have traditionally used
such devices).

If
employers expect their staff to use hand-held phones while driving, they may be
regarded as causing or permitting the offence to take place. Simply advising
workers not to use hand-held phones while driving may not be sufficient if, in
reality, it is expected that they will need to use mobiles as a part of their
role, and have taken calls while on the road in the past.

If
this is the case, it will be safer for employers to consider replacing
hand-held phones with hands-free ones to avoid being accused of permitting an
offence to take place. Ideally, employers should also issue guidance to their
staff not to use hand-held phones while driving. The Department of Transport
states that employers will not be held liable for supplying a mobile phone that
they happen to call while the employee is driving.

At
present, the offence will result in a £30 fixed penalty, or a fine on
conviction of £1,000 (£2,500 for drivers of lorries, buses or coaches). It has
been suggested that in the future, the new offence may also attract three
penalty points on a driving licence.

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