Fleet News

Prosecution warning over hands-free phone use

A legal expert is warning fleets and their drivers they could fall foul of the law if they are involved in a collision while using a hands-free phone.

The warning comes in the wake of new research that shows hands-free use has increased from 22% in 2006 to 38% today.

Richard Silver, a motoring offences solicitor, said: “Although many people believe that using a hands-free device will protect them from prosecution, unfortunately the law isn’t quite that simple.

“If a driver is involved in a collision while using a hands-free device, they may still be open to prosecution for not being in proper control of the vehicle, or even for dangerous or careless driving. If the accident is serious, the driver could face a custodial term, even if the use of the mobile device didn’t cause the incident.”

The research, from Brake and Direct Line, found that texting at the wheel is widespread, with three in 10 of all drivers (30%) admitting sending or reading messages while driving, and an even higher proportion of drivers aged 18-24 – more than four in 10 (44%) – doing so.

Smartphone apps are an additional threat, with 12% of drivers using them at the wheel, up from 9% in 2006.

However, Brake says it is the increase in the use of hands-free phones that is particularly concerning.

The effect of talking on a phone on driving has been shown to be worse than drinking certain levels of alcohol. Research by TRL found driver reaction times to be 30% slower while using a hands-free phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 80mg alcohol per 100ml blood (the UK limit) and nearly 50% slower than driving under normal conditions.

As a result, Brake has renewed its call for a total ban on mobile phone use while driving. Julie Townsend, the road safety charity’s deputy chief executive, said: “The Government needs to act now to stop this risky behaviour.”

However, fleets remain unconvinced. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents to a poll believed a ban would reduce their company’s turnover by more than 25%, while a third (36.9%) said they would expect to see revenues cut in half (Fleet News, January 23). But more than 60% acknowledged that the use of a hands-free device while driving does distract drivers, with one in five (21.4%) agreeing that they contribute to serious accidents.

Judging by the comments left on the Fleet News website, there remains a lack of support for a total ban.

Reader Michael Hinton wrote: “It’s no more distracting than talking to your passenger in the vehicle or does Brake want to ban that as well?”

Another thought banning hands-free phones would be the thin edge of the wedge. Angie Ward wrote: “If they ban hands-free, the next step will be to ban sat-nav systems.”

Legally, however, Silver says that employers should seriously consider instructing employees not to use hands-free devices while driving.

He said: “Even if an employee uses a mobile device with a hands-free kit, there is a risk of prosecution to the employer if the police can prove that employees were pressured to use devices to the extent that they become distracted by calls or other interactive communications.

“However, in the circumstances, the safest course of action for employers might be to instruct employees not use a mobile device for any interactive function while driving.”


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  • Busterrabbit - 07/05/2014 15:05

    All phone use whilst driving is a distraction, the business world survived perfectly well without it. writing and reading texts, emails Tweets and comments on facebook are an even greater hazard. I defy anyone who drives regularly to deny that they haven't seen this type of use increase dramatically over the past couple of years. Driving standards are bad enough already, and with the virtual absence of Traffic Police I can see the continuing increase of phone/email/web use making matters worse. As a motorcyclist, who will invariably come of worse in the event of a collision it is a really worrying trend that must be stopped.

  • Patriot - 07/05/2014 22:23

    Is'nt eating and/or retuning the radio while driving equally distracting? Hands free communication systems are OE in a lot of new vehicles so is Richard Silver going to write to vehicle manufacturers and tell them not to include them? Several years ago I had a violent sneezing attack while driving at about 20mph and hit a parked car, Mr.PC Plod and his mates accepted my explanation and left me to discuss details with the other car owner. I might have been lying (I was'nt) but I could also have been using a mobile 'phone at the time. Unless you are seen using a hand held 'phone while driving or the Police interrogate your 'phone how will it be proven? Education not Legislation is a better alternative.

    • Busterrabbit - 08/05/2014 13:16

      @Patriot - I totally agree that driver education is preferable but just looking at the behaviour of a lot of drivers shows it isn't working. The Police will interrogate your phone in the event of an accident, and if your journey is for business it will be treated as a work related accident covered by health and safety legislation, so yes you will be caught. Problem is it's likely somebody may have been injured/killed beforehand and saying "sorry I didn't realise" isn't going to bring them back. I see idiots, dangerous idiots, on the phone daily, they are all accidents waiting to happen, just hope you're not the one they have an accident with. Just because technology is available doesn't mean it should be used "driving without due care and attention" is an offence whatever the distraction, be it using a phone or looking backwards to talk to children in the rear seat (and how widespread is that!)

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