Fleet News

Call to ‘clear the fog’ over mobile phones

A HIGH-profile campaign to clear the fog of confusion surrounding the law on mobile phone use while driving is desperately needed to help the industry, fleets claim.

Although companies understand that it is against the law to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving following a law introduced last year, it is still unclear what constitutes a hands-free phone call.

A meeting of the London East division of the Association of Car Fleet Operators heard a variety of differing interpretations of the law.

Some members believed the phone had to be in a fixed cradle to make it hands-free, while others thought it could be loose as long as it could not be touched during a call.

And fleet operators criticised retailers for not doing enough to help drivers and companies purchasing mobile phones to understand their responsibilities.

One fleet decision-maker at the meeting asked: ‘Why are retailers not taking the law into account when they sell mobile phones with earpieces?

‘They need to take a standard approach to informing buyers.’

Members said they could not be certain whether a bluetooth phone, which would be loose in the car but would not need to be touched to answer a call, would be seen as hands-free. Some believed it was within the law, while others were less certain.

One member said: ‘I have talked to the police and they told me that if the phone is not fixed to the dashboard, then it is not legal to use while driving.’

Another said: ‘A lot of companies may have missed a vital issue when printing their drivers’ handbooks.’

Since the introduction of the law, many risk management experts have recommended that employers ban drivers from making calls on any phone, whether hand-held or hands-free.

Instead, they believe drivers should be encouraged to pull over at regular intervals to check their phone messages. Such a practice, they say, would also avoid drivers spending too long behind the wheel at one time, another potential cause of accidents.

Mobile phone law fact file

  • Since December 1, 2003, it has been an offence to use a hand-held phone when driving
  • The penalty is a £30 fixed penalty or up to £1,000 on conviction in court (£2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles, buses or coaches)
  • Drivers still risk prosecution (for failure to have proper control) if they use hands-free phones when driving
  • 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’
  • Provided that a phone can be operated without holding it, then hands-free equipment is not prohibited by the new regulation
  • Pushing buttons on a phone while it is in a cradle or on the steering wheel or handlebars of a motorbike, for example, is not covered by the new offence, provided the phone is not held. However, drivers still risk prosecution for failing to have proper control of a vehicle if the hands-free is deemed to be a distraction
  • If there is an incident, the use of any phone or similar device might justify charges of careless or dangerous driving

    Source: Department for Transport

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