It is illegal to drive a vehicle or ride a motorbike and use a hand held mobile phone or similar device. It is also illegal to supervise a learner and use a hand-held phone. Hands-free phones are also a distraction and you risk prosecution for not having proper control of a vehicle if the police see you driving poorly while using one.
There have been a number of high profile accidents and prosecutions where the road traffic accidents have been caused by a driver on a hand held mobile phone. But do not think you will automatically be protected if the employee is using a hands free set.
Drivers who fail to take sufficient care when driving can face prosecution even if they are using a hands free phone. Recently a driver of a heavy goods vehicle was jailed for four and half years for causing death by dangerous driving, after using a legal blue tooth connection to his phone.
He was in a long conversation and got distracted from the road conditions, he failed to notice the line of stationary traffic in front of him, driving his lorry into the back of the stationary queue. The result was one fatality and several major injuries.
In 2007 new legislation increased the penalty for using a hand-held phone whilst driving. There is a £60 fine and three penalty points if found guilty. Penalty points can mean higher insurance costs. Those getting six points within two years of passing their driving test, will have their licence revoked and will need to re-sit the test. If the case goes to court there is a maximum fine of £1,000, or £2,500 for the driver of any bus, coach or heavy goods vehicle.
A driver can also be prosecuted for using a hands-free device if they are not in proper control of the vehicle when using the device. The penalties are the same – £60 fine and three points on their licence.
Callers also play an important role in keeping the roads safe. If the person you are speaking to is driving, please terminate the call and arrange to speak to them later.
If an employee is driving as part of his or her work, the employer may also have some responsibilities for their safety and the safety of other road users and pedestrians.
Even if employers provide a hands free kit they cannot pass all the responsibilities on to the employee.
In civil law the employer is automatically responsible for the actions of their employees if they are negligent and this results in an injury to another person. The company could be sued by the injured parties if they are injured due to the employees negligence.
Equally the company has potentially breached a number of other statutory requirements including Section 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
If it is found that the company has not taken steps to manage driving and transport issues, or even encourages them by constantly ringing and contacting their drivers, senior managers and directors could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter. If their lack of control has enabled poor practices to continue.
In 1999 Stephen and Julie Bowles of Transport Firm – Roy Bowles Transport Ltd were prosecuted when one of their lorry drivers fell asleep at the wheel. The driver had worked excessively long hours in knowledge of directors and this was not a one off incident.
Melyvn Spree & his transport company Keymark Services were prosecuted for corporate manslaughter when one of their lorries was involved in a serious accident. At the time of the incident the vehicle’s tachograph showed truck as being at rest in the Isle of Sheppey. The business owner was sent to prison for 7 years.
The new traffic law includes an offence of “causing or permitting” a driver to use a hand-held phone while driving. This will, therefore, apply to employers who will be guilty of an offence if they require or permit their staff who drive for work, to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
Employers would be unwise to respond by supplying their staff with hands-free kits. Even if the use of these while driving does not contravene the specific ban on hand-held phones, employers could fall foul of health and safety laws if an investigation determined the use of the phone contributed to an accident.
Recent guidance from the Health and Safety Executive makes it clear that employers have a duty under health and safety law to manage the risks faced by their employees on the road. And one of the biggest risks they face is when using mobile phones while at the wheel.
There are good reasons for providing mobile phones to staff who drive for work, especially for lone workers and staff who will be travelling through areas where access to a public phone is difficult. If a member of staff breaks down, for example, they need to be able to summon help. Some employers provide mobile phones for certain staff and others reimburse the cost of work related calls made on private mobile phones.
But, this should not mean that staff use the phone while driving. As part of the management of work related road safety, employers should provide employees with clear guidance on the use of mobile phones. The use of hand-held or hands-free phones while driving should be prohibited, particularly as there is a simple alternative – let the phone take messages and return calls when stopped in a safe place.
Research has shown that driver’s reaction times are up to 50% slower than normal when driving and using a mobile phone. It also shows that your reaction times are 30% worse than when driving under the influence of alcohol.
Is a driver allowed to use any other equipment like a hands-free mobile phone?
The use of a hands-free phone or other equipment is not specifically prohibited because it is difficult for police to see it in use. But if you drive poorly because you are distracted by a phone conversation for example, then the police can prosecute for failing to have proper control of the vehicle.
If there is an incident or a crash, the use of any phone could be justification for the charges of careless or dangerous driving. The penalties on conviction for such offences include heavy fines, endorsement, disqualification and, in serious cases, imprisonment. Courts are taking a serious view in such cases.
If you drive badly and a police officer suspects you have been using your phone he can stop you and seek a reason for the poor driving. If it goes to court, your phone records can be checked to determine whether you were using your phone.
There is an exception for calls to 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency where it would be unsafe or impractical to stop.
Driving is using a motor vehicle on public roads and can include when a vehicle is stopped at traffic lights or during a traffic hold-up. Park safely and then use the phone (but not on the motorway hard shoulder).
Strangely it is not a specific offence to cycle and use a mobile phone but cyclists could be prosecuted by the police for careless or dangerous cycling.
The Highway Code warns against using in-vehicle systems can be distracting. You must exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times.