Whether to ban the use of hands-free phones while driving was debated at the recent RAC-sponsored Fleet News round table at Wroxall Abbey.
Road safety charity Brake believes that companies should go beyond the current legislation – which has banned the use of hand-held mobiles while at the wheel for the past decade – and introduce a ban on hands-free mobiles too.
It points to research that using a hands-free mobile while driving can be more dangerous than drink-driving.
But some fleet operators fear a ban could have negative financial impact on their business, reducing turnover and revenues.
What is your mobile phone policy – does anyone ban hands-free phones?
Neil Shaw: If someone is caught using a mobile phone in one of our vehicles that is a final written warning. If they want to make a call, they pull over at a safe and legal place to do so.
Peter Weston: Our policy is that mobile phones aren’t to be used while you are driving, whether you are hands-free or not. You have your mobile with you and you pick up your calls when you stop.
How effective is a total ban?
Graham Hine: I’m not sure how effective a ban would be because I regularly see people that flaunt the current legislation, whether they are commercial drivers or private drivers. I think it’s more about driver behaviour and attitude and how we address that.
Monica Guise: Where do you stop? Could we not say that having a passenger is distracting? Or having kids in the back is distracting? What about having the radio on? There is a line isn’t there, somewhere? We could deem that there are no radios, no sat-navs.
Peter Weston: We don’t particularly need to enforce our ban because we’ve got the mindset right. The mindset is the rules we have in place are there to protect you as well as to protect the business and the general public. When we started introducing occupational road safety we made it clear to drivers that driving is probably the riskiest thing they are ever going to do on a day-to-day basis. And once you get that message in, it becomes self-policing.
Neil Shaw: Drivers can’t attach Bluetooth to a company phone, it is a basic phone. They can either call when they are at their next drop or if they can pull over at a safe place. If you work for us, those are the rules. If you follow them then brilliant, you can get into our driver of the year competition and all the other perks around safe driving. If you choose to use your mobile phone, then drive for someone else because we don’t do that.
If you ban drivers from using Bluetooth, is there a risk they will use a hand-held phone while driving instead?
Neil Shaw: You will have individual people who behave in a certain way and you can’t legislate for that. But it’s about education and raising awareness. If you publicise your policies and explain to people why, then they understand. One of the things we do is that all of our managers do the driver’s job. At some point, they will spend time out the road, go through exactly the same induction programme and through the same driver risk awareness package. We have the council, the unions and the managers in an environment where they go through the driver risk awareness package so everyone understands why we are doing it. You get everyone’s buy-in and set the parameters. It has really worked.
Paul Taylor: If you’re looking for driver improvement and driver safety, it’s not the policy that does it. It’s the training you put behind it that will drive it. It’s no good having a policy that sits there. Some people will know it’s there, some won’t. It’s the training you put behind it that enforces it.
How do you make sure drivers have read and understood fleet policies?
Monica Guise: We have found that although a lot of policies are on the internet, people don’t look at them. So we sit them down once a year and do a driver responsibility workshop. We make sure they sign to say they have read and understood the policy because six months down the line we could be in an HR disciplinary situation because of private use of the vehicle and we’ve got the signature to say they understood.
What other challenges do you face communicating with drivers?
Paul Taylor: Whether they see themselves as a driver is always a big issue for me. Most of our drivers don’t see themselves as a driver.
Georgina Smith: With vans and lorries, driving is their profession. It’s different when you move into cars. The majority of our car drivers are nurses. Nursing is their profession, yet we can send them 100 to 200 miles a day and expect them to be good drivers. We have a one-to-one driving session, which takes about two hours and we re-train every two years. We’ve now extended it to the cars and I think it was more needed in the cars than the vans.
Paul Taylor: The other issue is that we’ve got transport managers but the drivers don’t report directly to that transport manager. It is difficult to get that point across about safe driving and implementing your policies because you’ve got to get through that barrier of drivers not reporting to you.
Graham Hine: I have that issue. I’m responsible for policy, but I can’t discipline a driver if he breaches that policy, it has to go through his line manager. Also, transport isn’t core to our business. For me, transport is almost way down the list of priorities. When it comes to things like checking drivers at recruitment stage, that just doesn’t happen.
Neil Shaw: If you look at recruitment, where we think we have got it right is that by bringing the right people in at the beginning we have to invest less in training and development. We also find they have the right attitude to customer service and doing that side of the job as well. We don’t want anyone with more than three points on their driving licence, but it is different in the light van commercial world and light goods vehicles.
Have you seen a reduction in accidents?
Neil Shaw: Yes, ours have dropped massively and the business has grown very quickly over the past 10 years.
Have you had any challenges when you have made changes to a policy?
Adrian Harris: We used to say in our policy that it is best practice is to pull over to the side of the road to make a call. We’ve now taken ‘best practice’ out. That change went before the health and safety committee who are all sales people because it’s a sales-orientated business. We had to explain what the realities were and the mock trial at the Fleet News Congress last year really helped.