At the end of February, penalties for using a hand-held phone while driving became much more severe.
The £30 roadside fixed penalty notice that had applied was increased to £60 and three penalty points added to the driver’s licence. If a case involving mobile phone use goes to court drivers could lose their licence.
This change to section 26 of the Road Safety Act 2006 could have a major impact on many UK businesses. Yet recent research suggests that most of them remain dangerously ignorant of the issue.
Why does it matter?
David Faithful, a solicitor who works with the supplier of online driver assessment tools RealTime Risk Assessment said employers were legally obliged to have a policy on mobile telephone use.
“If one of their staff crashes while on a business call, directors could be prosecuted under health and safety laws. Simply telling an employee not to take calls is not good enough. Even supplying them with a hands-free kit does not provide a ‘get-out-of-jail’ clause,” he says.
”The police will now routinely obtain mobile phone records of drivers involved in serious or fatal road accidents, and use of a phone during an accident is regarded by the courts as an aggravating factor in the same way as drunk driving. It will result in a custodial sentence.”
Businesses are liable
Trevor Davies, health & safety officer at HR information provider Croner says: “Although a business cannot be given penalty points, it can receive the same £60 penalty under the new legislation, and this could lead to companies having to pay higher premiums for company car insurance policies. More importantly, any companies that do turn a blind eye to rule-breaking are putting at risk the lives of drivers and other road users.”
Every week, 20 people are killed and a further 270 people seriously injured on UK roads. According to the Local Authority Road Safety Officers Association drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone while at the wheel react 30% more slowly and miss significantly more road signs than those driving under the influence of alcohol.
Yet, despite this, and the fact it has been illegal to drive while using a handheld phone since 2003, UK company car drivers do not seem to be getting the message. Research by Croner found that nearly one in three of them use a mobile phone while driving on company business.
Furthermore, according to research by headset provider Jabra, managers are also failing to address the problem. It found that although 68% are aware of the law, 22% of them still do not have a policy on in-car mobile use for company business.
However, despite these difficulties, it is possible for companies to make a difference. Heather Matheson, managing director at HR consultancy HR Insight, suggests employers should review their mobile phone policies and discourage the use of mobile phones while driving, even with the aid of a hands-free kit.
“Policies should make it clear that drivers should find a safe place to stop before making or answering calls,” she says.
“The biggest change an employer needs to make, however, is probably cultural. We have all become so used to having mobile phones switched on at all times that it often needs to become acceptable once again for an employee to have the phone switched off while driving,” Matheson adds.
Many firms have already begun to act. Caroline Jowett-Ive, head of reward and policy at Virgin Mobile says: “Our guidelines state that using any type of phone while driving is distracting, texting and driving is unacceptable, and that this includes while waiting at lights or in traffic jams. Employees should switch their phones off while driving.”
When a mobile phone company starts telling its staff to switch off their mobile phones we can be sure this is a serious issue. It is time that other companies started to take it equally seriously.