Fleets and company drivers oblivious to danger of illegal hand-held mobile phone use

Many fleets and company car and van drivers remain oblivious to the dangers of using a hand-held mobile phone while behind the wheel, according to a raft of new data released to coincide with the first anniversary of tougher sanctions for those breaching the law.

The penalties for being caught while using a hand-held mobile phone while driving doubled on March 1 last year from £100 and three penalty points to £200 and six points. The use of a hand-held telephone while driving has been banned since 2003.

The Department for Transport said that more than 26,000 motorists had been caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving in the first 12 months since the harsher penalties came into force.

In response the government has launched a new THINK! advertising campaign to try and persuade drivers not to use their hand-held mobile phone while at the wheel.

Meanwhile, a survey by RAC Business of 1,000 UK companies discovered that 20% had no policy for mobile phone use while driving. The survey also revealed:

  • 19% of UK firms said their employees had been involved in a crash while driving for work due to using a hand-held phone at the wheel
  • 15% of businesses admitted their drivers were ‘often involved’ in accidents while using a hand-held phone and 5% said it happened ‘on a regular basis’
  • 38% of businesses said they expected commercial vehicle drivers to answer calls while on the road. For larger businesses (500 to 1,000 employees) that figure rose to 49%
  • 30% of businesses of all sizes don’t provide legally compliant hands-free kits

The survey results prompted calls from RAC Business for fleets and business owners to highlight the dangers of using a hand-held phone at the wheel to their employees and to make sure they had a policy in place for the use of phones while driving for work.

Rod Dennis, from the RAC’s Be Phone Smart campaign, said: “It is illegal to use a hand-held phone while driving. But at the same time we recognise that businesses need to stay in touch with drivers and commercial vehicle drivers need to stay in touch with customers.

“The use of hands-free kits is within the law and that can provide a legal and safer solution for businesses, which is how many different businesses operate.

“If employers expect their company drivers and staff to take calls on the road, which 38% admit they do according to our research, then they should be providing legally compliant hands-free kits so they can do that without breaking the law.

“Our survey says 70% of employers do provide hands-free kits, but in our view that still needs to be much higher, and every business should have a clear code of conduct or policy for drivers.

“However just because it’s legal to use a hands-free kit, it doesn’t necessarily means it’s always safe to do so, and it certainly shouldn’t be used to have long conference calls or to proactively make lots of calls on a long journey.

“It should always be down to the driver in terms of how they feel about taking a call and they should only do so if they judge it to be safe and not causing them a distraction.”

He concluded: “In the same survey we asked businesses whether it was important to uphold their ‘duty of care’ towards their company drivers and 92% agreed it was.

“Therefore businesses need to have a policy in place which is not only clear in the expectations of their drivers, but also needs to have a high profile in the business to ensure the message is getting through.”

Road Safety Minister Jesse Norman said: “Some motorists are still not only putting their own lives at risk, but the lives of others. Everyone has a role to play to encourage drivers to put their phone away and not use it while at the wheel.”

National lead for roads policing Chief Constable Anthony Bangham added: “There are still far too many people underestimating the risk that they take when using their mobile phone at the wheel.”

Sarah Sillars chief executive officer at driver training and risk management company, IAM RoadSmart, called for “more personal and corporate responsibility and vehicle, smartphone and social media companies working together to generate hi-tech solutions to the distractions caused by their technology”. She added: “No call is worth risking your own or someone else’s life for.”

Meanwhile, a survey from vehicle CCTV specialists SmartWitness suggested that 20% of drivers still used their hand-held mobile phone at the wheel a year after the tougher penalties were introduced. The company claimed that potentially meant that as many as seven million motorists were still regularly flouting the law.

SmartWitness chief executive Paul Singh said: “These figures are a huge concern for everyone wanting to improve road safety. Studies consistently show that using a mobile phone while driving is as dangerous as drink-driving. The way to tackle this abuse is to make using your phone at the wheel as socially unacceptable as drink-driving and we all have responsibility to hammer home this point.”

  • Using a hands-free phone while driving remains legal, but numerous studies have highlighted that the distraction caused by holding a conversation is as dangerous as if using a hand-held phone.

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