Alan Milbanke, a 32-year-old father-of-two, is believed to be the first driver in the UK charged with causing death by dangerous driving while using a phone.
He was at the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, delivering stationery for Guilbert, when it smashed into Derek Davies’ pick-up truck.
Investigations later revealed that the delivery driver had been talking on his mobile phone when the crash happened.
The court heard that the company had a strict policy outlawing the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving.
It also fitted vehicles with hands-free kits, but on the day of the accident, Milbanke was in a different vehicle without a kit available.
Fleet NewsNet understands that heads of major companies across the UK have asked for advice following the case.
Newcastle Crown Court heard last week that the accident happened on April 11 last year as Milbanke travelled at about 50mph on the B6278 near Snods Edge, Hexham, Northumberland, at a location known as ‘Devil’s Dip’. Davies, a retired horse groom, was driving his Vauxhall Brava pick-up in the opposite direction.
Milbanke lost control of the van, which went on to the wrong side of the road and crashed head-on with the pick-up. Davies, 68, died almost instantly in the crash, the court was told.
The defendant suffered head injuries and an arm injury and has no memory of the accident.
Mobile phone records checked by the police showed Milbanke had been talking for about two minutes in the lead-up to the accident.
The man at the other end of the conversation told police that as he and Milbanke talked, the line suddenly went dead.
A comparison of the timings of an emergency call made by a passer-by with Milbanke’s phone records concluded he must have been on the phone when the accident happened.
Prosecutor John Evans told the court: ‘At the time of the collision the defendant was in control of the vehicle ...no doubt with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the mobile phone.’
Passing sentence Judge Michael Cartlidge said: ‘Nothing I can do can bring Mr Davies back and I am sure Mr Davies’ family will have a lifetime suffering from knowing what happened.’
Milbanke, from Wallsend, North Tyneside, who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing, was also banned from driving for four years.
Speaking outside court, Mr Davies’ widow Jill said she thought Milbanke should have received a longer sentence.
She added that this type of case would not be the last.
She said: ‘I just hope there will be a lesson learnt from people who use mobile phones while driving. I sincerely hope another family will not have to go through what we have gone through but I will not be surprised if there will be.’ James Adkin, defending, told the court: ‘No amount of apology I give on this defendant’s behalf nor expressions of remorse go any distance in reducing the stress of the family of Mr Davies.’
Adkin said Milbanke, who was heading to Stanley, County Durham, to make a stationery delivery, had changed personality since the accident and now suffers from depression and anxiety.
A spokesman for Guilbert said the company was not planning to make a statement.