Fleet News

Ask Nigel: Hands-free phones

Q: Given recent research about the dangers of hands-free phones (Fleet News, June 23) I am considering banning their use on safety grounds but how do I make the case to the rest of the business and to the drivers? We have sales staff who spend a lot of time at the wheel and say they need to make phone calls. Also, assuming I am able to introduce a ban, how do I police it?

A: This is probably one of the tougher challenges facing a fleet manager today, given the all-pervasive presence of mobile devices in all our lives. It has been clear for many years that the use of a mobile device while driving is potentially dangerous, even using bluetooth or similar technology. While evidence suggests that businesses have done their utmost to ensure that their drivers comply with the law, relatively few have taken the step that you are considering. The situation is further complicated by the technology that allows drivers to access texts and email via their vehicle’s own systems and tools such as voice activation.

For me, the starting point here has to be company policy and culture. Adopting a ban will be much easier in a business with a strong, positive safety culture than in one where it is all about results and hitting sales targets. In the former, there is a good chance of success – in the latter, virtually none. Your approach in terms of “selling” the policy will be determined by this.

If your business does have an appropriate culture, you need to ensure that you get buy-in from the very top. You raise your concern about sales – as a minimum, you need to have the sales director actively supporting the introduction of this policy, accepting that their staff can only use mobiles while not driving. The HR director also needs to be prepared to implement the appropriate sanctions on drivers who refuse to adhere to policy. It would take only one driver being penalised for the policy to start to take effect. As far as the drivers are concerned, the policy needs to be presented in the context of the company’s overall approach to health and safety – and should stress that it is being implemented as part of a wider strategy to reduce driver risk.

The policy itself needs to be plain and simple – e.g. the phone should be switched off at any time when the user is driving. Appropriate words can be included in the voicemail greeting to state company policy and promise a call back. It may well be that such a message will also help the image of the business as a safe, caring organisation and reinforce your safety message.

Enforcement and policing such a ban will always be a challenge. I am delighted to see the emergence of technological solutions that prevent a mobile phone from making or receiving calls while the phone is in motion. To me, this will be the ultimate solution. I would therefore suggest that you investigate these technologies to see whether these will actually make this less of an issue.

I would also suggest that you seek out other organisations that have successfully adopted this approach – you can find them via Fleet News.

Banning the use of mobiles while driving is a key element in developing a culture of driving safety and your initiative is to be applauded – I wish you every success with it.

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