THE Government will introduce its new law banning the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving from December. We assesses how the new legislation will affect drivers and decision-makers along with the views of leading figures in the fleet industry.
Employers have been warned they must take responsibility for ensuring drivers on business obey laws banning the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving when they come into force.
In a letter to industry leaders who took part in consultation on the new legislation, Sue Faulkner, of the Road Safety Division at the Department for Transport, has provided an explanation of the key areas of focus for the new law and what role employers can play.
Although employers cannot be held completely responsible if drivers persist in using phones, they can be prosecuted if they 'cause and permit' the use of phones. So, if they refused to give drivers hand-free kits, but insisted that they answer the phone while on driving, they could be liable to prosecution.
Industry experts have warned that the legislation means companies will have to introduce major changes to their operating procedures and Government ministers have already spent months trying to educate the industry about the danger of mobile phone use while driving.
Insurer Direct Line commissioned research by the Transport Research Laboratory last year to gauge the effect of using a mobile phone while driving.
The results show that drivers' reaction times were on average 30% slower when using a hand-held mobile than when driving with excess alcohol, and nearly 50% slower than under normal driving conditions.
In the tests, drivers using mobiles were less able to maintain a constant speed and found it more difficult to keep a safe distance from the car in front. With a hand-held phone, drivers took half a second longer than normal to react, compared to when they were drunk – equivalent to an extra 46 feet at 70mph before reacting to a hazard on the road.
Also, drivers using either hands-free or hand-held mobiles missed more road warning signs than when drunk.
How the legislation will work
Following consultation, the Department for Transport is going ahead with revised proposals based on a consultation document that was sent out last year. Here are the key areas:
The new offence will carry a fixed penalty of £30 and three penalty points, or a fine on conviction of up to £1,000 (£2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles or those manufactured or adapted to carry nine or more passengers).
Drivers should not use hand-held phones while at traffic lights or during short hold-ups that may occur during a typical journey. However, the Government accepts that it is unnecessary for a vehicle to be parked with the engine switched off in order to avoid prosecution.
The new offence will apply to all mechanically-propelled vehicles, including motorbikes. Cyclists will not be covered by the new law.
The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 already make it an offence to 'cause or permit' the law-breaking to take place. Regulation 104 makes it an offence for a person to drive a motor vehicle if he or she cannot have proper control of the vehicle. Anyone 'causing or permitting' a driver not to have proper control, such as an employer requiring an employee to drive a vehicle which they cannot properly control, is also liable for prosecution.
For mobile phones, employers will not be liable solely because they have supplied a telephone or because they called an employee who was driving at the time. However, employers will continue to be liable if they require employees to commit an offence.
Those who are in control of a vehicle include those accompanying learner drivers. The new regulations will be drafted accordingly.
The Government's aim is to prohibit the type of activity rather than try to define different devices. The offence will therefore apply to drivers speaking or listening to a phone call, using a device interactively for accessing any sort of data, which would include the internet, sending or receiving text messages or other images, if it is held in the driver's hand during at least part of the period of its operation. The Government will not ban carrying of hand-held phones in vehicles or require them to be switched off. Pushing buttons on a phone while it is in a cradle or if it is being operated via buttons on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorbike would not breach the new regulation.
The Department for Transport considers that drivers should not use hands-free phones while driving, but it is not proposed to include these within the scope of the new regulation due to enforcement difficulties. Hands-free phones will not be prohibited unless they are being held during use.
There are many types of hand-held electronic devices that can be used in a similar way to a phone to text, receive and record messages, access the internet or data held within the device, or have dual or multi-functions. To avoid loopholes, holding any electronic device used for accessing oral, textual or pictorial communications will also be prohibited, provided that the device must be held at some point during the course of its operation.
There are few exemptions, even for emergency services. Two-way 'press to talk' radio microphones will be permitted. However, the only acceptable use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving is when making a 999 call for a genuine emergency, if is unsafe for a driver to stop.
The new regulation will now be prepared and laid before Parliament as soon as possible. A regulatory impact assessment will be published at that time. The new offence will be brought into effect from December 1, 2003.
Looking ahead: 'prepare now or face the consequences'
INDUSTRY leaders have urged fleets to start preparing now for the introduction of a ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones in December.
Although Parliament has to vote on the legislation before it can become law, it is widely expected to be passed with little change because of public support. The decision follows a consultation 'Mobile phones and driving – proposal for an offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving', which began in August last year. Comments were requested by November 25, 2002 and more than 1,000 responses were received. Some 88% were broadly in favour of the introduction of a new offence.
Road Safety Minister David Jamieson said: 'Driving while using a mobile phone is dangerous. We are all too familiar with the sight of people driving along while holding and talking on their mobile phones.
'Any driver will be distracted by a phone call or text message. It affects the ability to concentrate and anticipate the road ahead, putting the driver and other road users at risk. Our decision to introduce this new offence will make the roads safer for us all. Missing a call won't kill you – an accident quite possibly could.'
Research has demonstrated that if drivers use a mobile phone on the move, they are four times more likely to have an accident.
Hands-free calls are also distracting and Jamieson stressed that drivers should be aware that they still risk prosecution for failing to have proper control of their vehicle, for careless or even reckless driving if use of a phone affects their driving in this way.
Industry reaction: top names give their views on new proposals
David Wallace, Director of AA Business Services, said: 'This is a practical approach to dealing with the issue of driving while using a mobile phone. We are glad that the Government is not introducing a ban on hands-free as it would be difficult to enforce without banning the sale of the kits and ordering their removal from cars.
'Business motorists are clearly going to be affected by any legislation on mobile phone usage. We are calling on the Government to couple the move with a high-profile advertising campaign to educate motorists and to encourage companies to operate a safe culture with their employees.'
Andy Price, managing director of Andy Price Associates, risk management experts said: 'As mobile phone usage is widespread amongst company vehicle drivers, business processes will have to change to reflect the change in legislation. Forward-thinking companies who have already implemented a ban on the use of all mobile phones (hand-held and hands-free) whilst driving have not found this detrimental to their business as they have changed the way they communicate with their employees and customers, and in some cases they have found that by getting customers to call the office directly they have been able to improve their level of service and increase efficiency, as well as saving significant amounts of money on their telephone bills. Clearly the impact on each business will be different, and different solutions will be needed depending on the exact nature of the business and how mobile phones are currently used by drivers.
'Our view is that employers should use this new legislation, and the inevitable publicity this issue will receive over the next few months, as an excuse to change what they do now and implement policies and procedures that prevent their employees using hand-held or hands-free mobile phones whilst driving. As this is unlikely to be popular with drivers, the majority of whom, in our experience, will say that it is perfectly safe to use a hands-free phone whilst driving, companies should consider implementing a simple training course to demonstrate to their employees that it is very distracting to drive and hold a hands-free phone conversation, and that they cannot drive safely and conduct a hands-free phone conversation at the same time.
Given all the evidence of the dangers of hand-held and hands-free mobile phone usage whilst driving, and with the introduction of this new legislation, companies can no longer ignore the issue of employee safety on the road, and should implement a ban on the use of mobile phones whilst driving now.'
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval PHH, said: 'This proposed new legislation will make it more important than ever that fleets have a clearly communicated policy on mobile phone use by drivers. The consultation document includes a clear reference to 'cause or permit' in the wording, making it clear to employers that they may be liable if they cause or permit an employee to use a hand held phone whilst driving.
'The offence does not apply to properly fitted hands free phones at this stage, but it is clear that companies will require a robust policy in relation to this area.
'All drivers will have to be educated on exactly when they can and cannot make and receive calls. Some companies will also have to rethink their policies on making employees contactable while out of the office: otherwise they could find themselves drawn into legal battles with drivers who claim that they were expected to take calls while on the road.'
Nick Brownrigg, managing director of Interleasing, said: The new legislation does have serious implications for businesses whose employees have mobile phones for work use. We cannot stress enough that companies must put mobile phone policies in place before the legislation comes into force in December 2003. They must give clear guidance to drivers and make sure that the new policy is enforced.
'Mobile phone policy must become part of the company culture and should be regarded as an integral part of its wider road safety policy . It is no good management saying that employees should not use mobile phones in the car and then constantly ringing them when they are driving. It may be that companies instruct employees to always have mobile phones turned off in the car or that they must pull over safely if they wish to make a call. Or they may decide to install proper hands free systems into all cars. The company must also make their position on fines clear. Will they reimburse the driver for the cost or not? And what if the driver is taking a business call and they receive points on their licence?
'Whatever the decision, the policy must be clear and actively encouraged by everyone in the company.
'Following on from the well reported administration burdens with congestion charging, we will be interested to see clarification on the fines system.”
Mary Williams OBE, chief executive of Brake and the Fleet Safety Forum, said: 'Driving while using a mobile phone is unnecessary, reckless and puts the lives of all road users at risk. Brake is very pleased that the Government is taking action and hopes that an outright ban on hand-held phones will help to convince drivers of the dangers of using any mobile phone while driving.
However, Brake is disappointed that there are no plans to ban hands-free phones. It is also concerned that a £30 fine will not be a sufficient deterrent to drivers who are determined to divide their attention between a phone call and the road.'
Jeremy Hay, director of total vehicle risk management solutions company Risk Answers, a member of The Fleetsafe Group, said: 'No telephone call is so important for drivers to put themselves and other road users at risk. I support banning the use of hand-held telephones while driving.
'Drivers who are talking on the telephone are not concentrating fully on driving. A specific offence clarifies the law for everyone. But I don't support the removal of phones from vehicles. If a telephone rings while a vehicle is on the move drivers should only retrieve the call when they have stopped the vehicle in a safe place. If necessary they should allow the telephone to ring and return the call later.
'As a consequence of the imminent ban all companies must undertake a comprehensive review of mobile phone use with immediate effect. That should see new policies agreed and implemented which will result in improved safety levels, compliance with legislation, improved staff performance and increased company profitability as phone bills will reduce.
'An analysis of mobile phone use undertaken while carrying out a recent risk assessment on behalf of one client revealed that for a group of 120 sales people the main reasons they were using their mobile phones were:
'Mobile phone use by company car drivers is frequently the result of poor in-office call-handling procedures and inefficient sales territory planning.
'By proving these factors as part of a major safety audit and demonstrating why a comprehensive mobile phone policy should be adopted by every company we have helped clients slash their mobile phone bills by thousands of pounds. In addition those companies are now promoting best practice.
'Companies can introduce a variety of very simple solutions such as journey planning and investigating why staff use the phone to ensure they comply with the law while simultaneously ensuring business efficiency is not effected. The mobile phone needs to be used as a business tool and not the social tool it is rapidly becoming in the UK.'
Kevin Clinton, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents head of road safety, said: 'We are delighted to see a new law, but it will not have the impact we have been hoping for if people switch to hands-free devices instead. It is the telephone conversation that is the main problem. People are drawn into the conversation and ignore what is happening on the road around them. They vary their speed, drive closer to other vehicles, wander about on the road and their reactions are slower.
'We are worried that the powerful mobile phone industry will use the new law as an opportunity to market hands-free kits claiming they are safe, when in fact they are not. RoSPA urges bosses to make it a disciplinary offence for an employee to use a mobile phone while driving on company business. If they don't, and the worker has an accident then the company could face action under health and safety law.
'The fact that the people found guilty of the new offence will also incur penalty points should make occupational drivers in particular think twice about using their phones as it could lead to them losing their job if they are banned.
'People should switch off their phones when they get into their vehicles and not use them again until they are parked in a safe spot - as the Highway Code advises.'
Sumit Biswas, programme director, Vodafone UK said: 'We believe that the new policy is easy for our customers to understand, is enforceable by the police and importantly, it does not preclude the development of new technologies in the future. However, drivers should be aware that just because it is legal to use a fixed, handsfree mobile phone in a car, it does not necessarily mean it is safe to do so, and drivers should think carefully and responsibly about using their phone when driving.'
Mobile phones in cars – a tale of tragedy
SUSAN Penney's life changed forever the moment a company-provided mobile phone rang as the recruitment consultant was being driven to her next appointment.
In the next few minutes, one person would die and Penney would be injured so badly she could never work again, while her employer would be faced with a massive compensation bill and the loss of two key employees.
Penney was sitting in the passenger seat of a company vehicle with the company phone in her bag, while her manager was driving.
Penney said: 'We were on a business trip when the phone began ringing. I took the phone out and did not know the number on the display, so I read it out. My manager said it was her boyfriend and took the phone and started to arrange a dinner date.'
As her manager was distracted by the telephone, she began to increase her speed.
'I could see a car in the distance coming towards us on the correct side of the road and I said something, but my manager didn't hear me,' Penney said. 'We were doing 70mph when we hit the bend. I reached to grab the steering wheel but we were going too fast and hit the oncoming car.'
The 79-year-old driver of the other car died in the accident. Penney had a smashed left foot, broken toes in her right foot, a shattered right elbow, broken ribs and had broken her back in two places.
Her manager escaped with a broken foot, possibly because at the last minute, she had turned the steering wheel to avoid the oncoming car, so the passenger side of her vehicle took the full force of the impact.
Penney's manager was subsequently jailed for a year for the accident and received a lengthy driving ban. Penney's injuries mean she will probably never return to work and she successfully sued her employer for 'a substantial six figure sum'.
The case highlights how a few seconds of distraction can end in tragedy for employees and a financial and staffing crisis for employers. It has also inspired Penney, from Grimsby, to campaign for tougher laws regarding the use of mobile telephones in cars.