FLEETS around the country have universally responded to next week's law change on the use of mobile phones on the road, with an exclusive Fleet News poll showing that nearly all now have banned the use of hand-held phones while driving.
The fleet industry's almost total compliance with the law, which hits the statute books on December 1, comes as Transport Minister David Jamieson pressed home its vital importance to company car drivers.
He said: 'Driving while using a mobile phone is dangerous – you are risking your own life and those of other road users. It's hard to concentrate when you are doing two things at once and any driver will be distracted by a phone call or text message.
'By making it an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving, we will make the roads safer for us all. I urge drivers to remember: missing a call won't kill you – an accident quite possibly could.'
In a Fleet Panel survey (see the FNN archive, Tuesday November 26, 2003), 96% of the 160 fleets polled said they now had policies in place to stop their drivers from using mobile phones on the road.
For the last month, Fleet NewsNet and Fleet News has been raising awareness of the new law and how it will affect drivers and fleet decision-makers through our Phone Safe campaign. Hundreds of emails and letters offering support and seeking answers about the new law have flooded in.
As 'zero hour' gets ever closer, the Government has launched a national radio advertising campaign to raise awareness of the new legislation among drivers. It will tell motorists that from December 1, anyone caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving will receive a fixed penalty of £30 or, if convicted in court, a fine of up to £1,000.
The Government has also warned that drivers using hands-free kits are still at risk from prosecution for failing to control their vehicles properly. Privately it believes – as research has suggested – that hands-free kits are as distracting as hand-held mobiles. However, the problems of enforcement means hands-free kits will be left alone legally for the moment.
In a further development this week, fleets are warned they risk causing thousands of pounds damage to their vehicles by fitting sub-standard hands-free phone kits in a bid to save money.
Modern vehicles have complex wiring and only experts should attempt to fit new equipment. Mobile communication equipment firm Neatcom is warning that an increasing number of business motorists are calling for its help after problems with conversions offered at very low cost.
Neatcom spokesman Kirk Auluck said: 'I had one driver who asked us to rectify a phone installation that had been done badly, which had caused £800 damage to the car's electrical system.
'With the new hands-free legislation coming into force very soon, we have noticed more and more fitting companies setting up with little or no track record of installing hands-free car kits.
'Many of these companies don't have liability insurance and when something goes wrong, they are nowhere to be found.'
Auluck urged companies to issue strict guidelines on the type of hands-free kits that can be fitted, ensuring they are correctly placed and avoid damage to the dashboard.