Here, Fleet NewsNet attempts to unravel some of the confusion surrounding the new law by featuring a question and answer session prepared by the Department for Transport.
Last week we launched our PhoneSafe campaign as a call to action for fleets to prepare for the ban.
Throughout this month, we will be running a series of best practice articles, interviews, guest opinions and case studies to raise awareness of the new law, its consequences and the action that should be taken by companies to protect themselves and their employees.
As fleets are being urged to act on the new legislation, the Government has been accused of taking too long to publish the full details.
Stewart Whyte, director of the Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO), said: 'Fleet operators must analyse the legislation and then consider what changes they need to make to existing arrangements. I am personally aware of many situations where fleet policy documentation, driver handbooks and intranet sites are poised for re-writing, to ensure that the company advise and instructs its drivers correctly.
'Fleets need to know how best to act to meet both the new regulation and the carry-over of the existing driving-with-due-care-and-attention regulations.
'Where fleets decide to invest in good-quality hands-free equipment, they need to have the background knowledge of what will, and what will not, meet the terms, letter and spirit of the new regulations.
'To order, for example, 500 in-car hands-free kits, get them installed and ensure drivers are appropriately trained to use them is virtually impossible in the time remaining to December 1.'
Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) chief executive Christopher Bullock warned that drivers using hands-free kits while on the move should remain cautious.
He said: 'This winter should see the beginning of the end for the 'phoney driver' – that anti-social individual who thinks it is possible to control a vehicle properly while talking into a hand-held mobile phone.
'This has got to be good news. From December 1, there will be new fines for using hand-held mobile phones at the wheel. But for all those mobile phone violators out there – and their numbers don't seem to be decreasing – hands-free will not mean getting off scot-free. In the event of a crash, the police won't be particularly impressed if by way of mitigation it is claimed that the telephone being used was wired into the car's system.'
Mobile headset manufacturer Jabra has teamed up with the Association of British Drivers to produce a guide explaining the new law.
Ben Bushell, country manager, UK and Ireland, at Jabra, said: 'There is still a great deal of confusion in the market around the legislation and the legal options available to drivers still wishing to use their phones while on the move.
'We want the public to be prepared for December 1 and we hope that the guide will allow people to make an educated decision when selecting a hands-free solution and use it in the safest way possible.'
Answering the questions most drivers will be asking
Q.What does the regulation say about hand-held phones? .
A. The use of a hand-held phone or similar hand-held device while driving will be prohibited. A hand-held device is something that 'is or must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function'.
A device is 'similar' to a mobile phone if it performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data. Examples are sending and receiving spoken or written messages, still or moving images and access to the internet. Two-way radios are subject to special treatment under the regulations. See last question.
Q. Is hands-free phone equipment allowed? .
A. Provided a phone can be operated without holding it, hands-free equipment is not prohibited. Pushing buttons on a phone while it is in a cradle or on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorcycle is not covered by the new offence, provided you do not hold the phone.
However, hands-free phones are distracting and drivers risk prosecution for failing to have proper control of a vehicle if they use them when driving. The use of any phone might justify charges of careless or dangerous driving.
Q. What about texting/internet access/video phones?
A. The use of a mobile phone or similar device for any of these activities while driving is also prohibited if the phone (or other device) has to be held in order to operate it.
Q. Will drivers be able to use navigation equipment, personal digital assistants (PDAs) or other computer equipment that sends or receives data (which would include GPS transmissions)?
A. Yes – providing it is not a hand-held device. Use of devices other than mobile phones is only prohibited if the device performs an interactive communication function by sending and receiving data.
Q. Why is the use of hands-free mobile phones while driving not being banned?
A. Using any type of phone while driving is distracting. Drivers should remember the police can still use existing legislation (for failure to have proper control) if a driver is distracted by a call on a hands-free phone.
Q. Will mobile phones have to be switched off in vehicles?
A. No. Passengers may want to use them and drivers can use them when they are safely parked.
Q. What if the phone rings when I'm driving?
A. Let it ring and return the call when safely parked. Better to switch to voicemail before starting.
Q. Who do the new regulations apply to?
A. Drivers of all motor vehicles on the road, including cars, motorcycles, goods vehicles, buses, coaches and taxis. They also apply to anyone supervising a learner driver, while the learner driver is driving.
Q. Do the new regulations apply to cyclists?
A. No, but the police have powers to deal with dangerous cycling.
Q. Can hand-held mobile phones be used in a traffic jam?
A. Driving includes time spent at traffic lights or during other hold-ups when a vehicle can be expected to move off after a short while.
Q. Are there any exemptions?
A. Yes. There is an exemption for calls to 999 (or 112) in genuine emergencies where it is unsafe or impractical to stop.
Q. Will it be allowable to cradle a phone between ear and shoulder?
A. No. The offence applies if a phone has to be 'held' in any way while making or receiving a call.
Q. Are employers guilty of an offence if their employees use a hand-held phone while driving?
A. The new regulations apply to 'anyone who causes or permits any other person' to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
Employers would not be considered liable just because they supplied a phone or phoned an employee who was driving. However, they would probably be liable if they required their employees to use hand-held phones while driving or failed to forbid employees to use such phones on company business.
Q. If use of mobile phones is prohibited, surely the police will have to stop people talking or tuning the radio. What powers do they have?
A. There are no such intentions. There are many potential distractions while driving and it remains the driver's responsibility to drive safely at all times. Research shows it is more distracting to talk on a mobile phone than to converse with a passenger.
Q. Is the offence endorsable?
A. No. The offence is subject to a £30 fixed penalty or maximum fine of £1,000 for conviction in court (£2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles or buses/coaches.).
However, the DfT plans to increase this to three penalty points and a £60 fixed penalty in the future. A prosecution for careless or dangerous driving may be justified if a phone was in use at the time of an accident, for example. The penalties for such offences include heavy fines, endorsement, disqualification and, in serious cases, imprisonment.
Q. Will two-way radios be included in the new offence?
A. The use of two-way radio equipment (unless the device can also be used as a phone) when driving is not included in the new offence but there is still a risk of distraction and prosecution under other powers. The use of multi-purpose devices that can be used both as mobile phones and two-way radios is prohibited.