With business under pressure and organisations running leaner, there is a clear pressure for staff to be available for contact with both their offices and their clients at all times.
But employers are also under mounting pressure to ensure the safety of their at-work drivers, an issue that is under the Government spotlight following the publication of the Work-related Road Safety Task Group report. So should company car and van drivers have their mobile phones turned on when they are behind the wheel? A majority of the Fleet Panel believe employers should impose an absolute ban on phone use while driving, citing the dangers of driving with only half a mind on the road ahead, the potential insurance complications of an employee being involved in an accident while talking on the phone, and the evidence that speaking on the phone makes the driver more at risk of accidents up to 15 minutes after a call ends.
A significant minority, however, point out that a ban is impossible to enforce, that hands-free kits are an acceptable compromise to meet the commercial requirements of keeping staff productive at all times, and that speaking on the phone is no more dangerous than speaking to a passenger, changing a CD, controlling kids in the back, or smoking.
##Yes 58--left## ##No 42--right##
'Should employers prohibit staff from using mobile phones, whether hands-held or hands- free, while driving on business?''
'I have instructed staff that we do not want anyone using a phone while driving. I have explained the reasons behind it and the consequences should they have an accident, or if they cause an accident due to being on the phone. However, I still believe they use their phones and they will take the risk. However, once we have rolled out our risk management policy we will be more aggressive about mobile phones and outline the consequences if drivers are using them while driving.'
Diane Miller, fleet manager, Milgo Solutions
'Since the best method of reducing exhaust pollution is not to start the engine or at least cut out unnecessary journeys, you will understand how using a mobile phone can help the environment. Taking this positive theme a step further there is the 'accident prevention' aspect. Being able to phone ahead to reschedule an appointment because you have been delayed may well ease the pressure to get there as soon as possible. The knee-jerk reaction to produce some legislation to ban the use of mobile phones while driving needs thinking through. Of course companies that expect drivers to use mobile phones have a duty to provide a safe means of doing so. I think the answer lies with technology in the hands-free area.'
Bill Pinkney, transport consultancy services, Cornwall
'Employers should discourage the use of hand-held phones as it is obviously dangerous to drive a vehicle while not in complete control. Liability for any accident could also eventually rest with the employer if no evidence of 'discouraged phone use' existed. Hands-free phones are less of a problem. I believe they are no more dangerous than singing along to the radio or talking with somebody in the car.'
D.M, Details supplied
'Until legislation dictates otherwise I believe the most effective course of action is to actively discourage the practice. I believe that to prohibit use, although sensible, would be as difficult to enforce as a ban on smoking in company vehicles. Some drivers would no doubt continue and if ever caught simply claim that their call was of an emergency nature.'
Chris Fitzpatrick, area fleet co-ordinator Telewest Broadband
'IBM employees are advised not to make calls while travelling because of the significant distraction caused in so doing and therefore the increased risk. Employees are discouraged from leaving their mobile phone as a contact point while travelling. We have not banned them as there are times when it is important to contact them. Drivers are told wherever possible they should pull over and stop to take incoming calls.'
Phil Redman, manager fleet management and forms & print departments, IBM
'Lovely idea but how could it be enforced? I do think it's time a law was introduced banning the use of hand-held mobiles while driving. I get particularly nervous when I see drivers holding phones to their ears trying to negotiate a roundabout and change gear at the same time. The police will argue, no doubt, that there are laws already in existence that enable them to prosecute drivers not in control of their vehicles but with the proliferation of mobiles, I firmly believe a specific ban on in-car calls using a hand-held instrument is long overdue.'
Glyn Davies, finance director, Staedtler
'No matter how clever you think you are it is impossible to give adequate attention to basic driving, and perhaps more importantly assessing the traffic/conditions around you, while dialling or talking to somebody. If anyone thinks they can do this, try this test: While watching TV, try and talk with somebody on the phone, then assess how much of the TV programme or conversation you can recall. Hand-held mobiles and hands-free kits should be used as a means of contact while en-route, not on road. Common-sense should always prevail but this is sadly lacking in the majority of drivers.There are many man-made dangers that can cause a vehicle to be driven without due care, but this seems the most prevalent and easily remedied.'
Ian Smith, group accountant, CpiO
'Why should company car drivers be identified as a separate body from others? This is a matter for legislation, or clarification of the existing law, not company policy. The police take the view that drivers using a hand-held phone are not in proper control of the car and will issue a fixed penalty ticket. The matter can be referred to a magistrates' court by the driver but the courts may take the view that the driver was driving without due care.'
Len Ward, Spring Skills
'I don't think employers should prohibit staff from using mobiles. If they do, are they going to stop them eating, drinking, smoking or talking to passengers as well?' Marianne Gluhosky, group rental manager, Gates Group
'Using a hand-held while driving is dangerous and should be actively discouraged. However, judicious use of a hands-free phone can be an effective use of an employee's time.'
Nigel Trotman, central services manager, Whitbread
'Some rules need to be laid down to clarify the position. As a member of an advanced drivers' organisation, I could never condone the use of 'hand-held' mobile phones. However, I do not have a problem with receiving a phone call on a proper hands-free kit or even making a call using speed dial. After all, let's not forget that the police ride round with a hands free kit attached to their ear, don't they? This is only my personal opinion but, taking the current position of health and safety in the workplace, on balance, it would probably be better to ban the use altogether while on the move.'
Chris Ward, Channel Express
'Even hands-free talking does not give you full concentration on the road. An accident takes one second of loss of concentration and one eye off the road for that second. I also think that it could affect the insurance if the driver was involved in an accident which was proved to be his fault because he was on the phone at the time.'
Paul Trup, Argonaut Games
'Employers should prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving, but how would you enforce this? All our cars are fitted with hands-free kits and our staff would say using them while driving is a necessity and as some do 40,000 miles per year, I suppose they would find it difficult to operate effectively any other way.'
Nick Welch, Pinnacle Insurance
'We have a policy of fitting kits in all company cars to enable drivers to use the phone 'hands-free'. We instruct all drivers that they should use the hands-free facility at all times, and where possible to park up in order to make calls. We are a sales organisation and we cannot expect our sales force not to be able to receive calls while driving.'
J.S. Details supplied
'I have included in our policy instructions to have phones set to message while on the road. The message is recommended to include a statement to the effect that one is driving and cannot answer the call. I am sure that any call made on the move cannot have the meaningful content it would have if the driver was able to devote his/her full attention. For myself, if I suspect that I am being called from a mobile, and the driver is on the move, I end the call, and arrange to be called back. None of us should knowingly hold a conversation with someone who is driving.'
Mike Rowney, fleet manager East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust
'The RNIB has had a no-mobile when driving (hand-held or hands-free) policy since 1998. The instruction is clear and extends to cars hired by us and people like me with a company mobile phone but using their own car for business travel.' Alan Miles, administration & data protection manager, RNIB
'Employers who allow staff to install hands-free kits in company cars are endorsing their use while vehicles are being driven. If you cannot use a mobile while you are driving then you do not need a hands-free kit in the first place.' Paul Owen, manager, administration services, Rio Tinto