Fleet News

News analysis: phone ban plan splits industry

PROPOSALS that could see employers dragged through the courts if their staff use hand-held mobile phones while driving have caused a major split in industry opinion.

Employers, fleets and industry associations were this week coming to terms with the ramifications of the Department for Transport battle plan to combat danger drivers.

The DfT's consultation document, called 'Mobile Phones and Driving – proposal for an offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving', suggests a £30 on-the-spot fine for drivers caught making a call, even while stationary. Even the emergency services may not be exempt from fines.

At present, police may prosecute drivers under Regulation 104 of the Construction and Use Regulations 1986 for failing to have proper control of their vehicles. In some cases, a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving may be possible.

The Highway Code also makes it clear that drivers should never use a hand-held mobile phone and that using a hands-free phone is also likely to distract a driver's attention from the road.

But since November 2000, Government surveys of mobile phone use by drivers have shown a steadily rising trend, from 1.5% in the first survey to 2.2% this year.

It said: 'There has been considerable pressure from safety organisations and many members of the public to take action to ban the use of phones by drivers.

'The department is concerned that too many drivers are using their phones while on the move. It has been decided that further action is needed to send a clearer message to motorists that they should not be used.'

Provision for hands-free phones has been deemed unenforceable, but almost everything else would be banned. The move comes just weeks after an influential report commissioned by the Government into mobile phone use recommended taking action.

Transport Minister David Jamieson warned companies last week that they would be liable for prosecution if they 'cause or permit' the use of a mobile phone by a driver, under the new rules.

The report was produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents for the Department for Transport and recommended a start to discussions with the police over legislative detail. It identified a number of successful schemes throughout the world.

In May, accident victims, politicians and safety campaigners called on UK companies to ban the use of mobile phones while driving.

The plea came at the launch of a new campaign, called 'Shut Up Britain!', by road safety organisation Brake and coincided with a warning from Transport Minister David Jamieson that legislation may force a ban if drivers do not put safety before phone calls.

The Government has written to more than 100 associations, including the Association of Car Fleet Operators to gauge their opinions on the issue.

But industry reaction is divided, with some organisations welcoming legislation they have long campaigned for, while others believe it is a waste of time.

Mixed reaction to ban from motoring groups

The AA

MOVES to introduce a specific law banning the use of mobile phones in cars are unnecessary, as current legislation is sufficient. There are many other in-car distractions which can be just as dangerous as talking on the phone. We cannot have a law banning the use of mobiles without one to ban eating, smoking, drinking, applying make-up or shaving for that matter.

Laws already exist to deal with drivers who cause a danger by using a phone at the wheel. The law needs to be clear that all distractions are potential killers.

RoSPA

This is the culmination of a long campaign by RoSPA to persuade the Government to introduce specific legislation. RoSPA first raised concerns about the distraction caused by mobile phones and driving in the mid-1990s, and has continued to research and raise public awareness.

RoSPA's president introduced a Private Member's Bill in the House of Lords to ban drivers using mobile phones in 1999.

Research shows that drivers who use a mobile phone are significantly distracted and less able to concentrate on what is happening around them. They tend to drive closer to other vehicles, veer about in their lanes and their reaction times are slower.

Research indicates that they are four times more likely to crash than those who do not use mobile phones. RoSPA, the Government and the police have tried to educate people about the dangers, but this does not seem to be working. A law will make it crystal clear to everyone. This will mean that employers will know that their staff should not be expected to take, or make, calls while driving.

Association of British Drivers

Mobile phones are an essential part of modern life and business. Commerce in the United Kingdom will be seriously affected by this proposal.

If they succeed in banning the use of hand-held phones in the name of safety, what assurance do we have that they won't move to ban hands-free phones? And what next? Will they make changing radio stations illegal? Ban passengers from speaking to the driver?

While no doubt some mobile phone users act dangerously, thousands of others cause no problems. This proposed law will not affect those that read maps or newspapers while driving, or those that carry out many other inappropriate activities when they should be concentrating on their driving. Existing laws are more than adequate.

BRAKE

Most of us don't realise that we can be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving if our driving is affected by using a mobile under current laws. A new law would help both to clarify the legal situation and to alert drivers to the very serious risk that they are running by taking that call. A survey of 1,000 drivers by Brake, published as the Green Flag report on safe driving in April 2001, found that more than one in three (37%) drivers talk on a mobile phone while driving. However, 91% of drivers say they think it should be illegal to use hand-held mobile phones while driving and 47% support a ban on both hand-held and hands-free phones.

Institute of Advanced Motorists

There is already existing legislation and this will not change anything. It is not a lack of legislation, it is a lack of legal enforcement that is the problem. This is by no means the fault of the police, as the numbers on the road have fallen. If you go down this road, what about cans of Coke and sandwiches?

Association of Car Fleet Operators

Within ACFO, as elsewhere, there are many different views. We must reflect all of these in a realistic way, but we are always in favour of realistic and fair solutions for improving road safety. We will be paying particular attention to suggestions made that employers should face sanctions for 'causing or permitting' use of mobile phones while driving company vehicles.

The Government proposals in full...

  • Proposed addition to Construction and Use Regulations 1986 for specific offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, applying to any driver of any motor vehicle in Great Britain
  • Offenders subject to £30 fixed penalty or fine upon conviction of £1,000. Penalty points under consideration
  • Estimates suggest 100,000 fixed penalty notices and 5,000 court cases a year
  • Covers any type of hand-held phone or similar device, including using earphones and a microphone
  • Offence includes text messaging or using mobile internet services
  • Drivers could be prosecuted for using phone while stationary in a traffic jam, or at traffic lights. Short-term use, to say 'Hang on while I pull over and stop' would also be an offence. Correct use would be while parked with engine off
  • Employers liable for prosecution if they 'cause or permit' the use of a mobile phone by staff driving for work
  • Officials feel a specific offence of using a hands-free phone while driving would be unenforceable
  • Hands-free phones should be permanently wired into the vehicle and use one or more speakers permanently fixed to the vehicle.
  • Regulation due in 2003
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