Fleet News

Mobile phones ‘plague on society’ says judge, as crash driver is jailed

Fleets are being warned that there is “no safe-time” to use a mobile phone, hand-held or otherwise, while driving.

The warning comes as the courts are convicting drivers shown to have used a mobile device not at the time of an accident, but sometime beforehand.

In the most recent case, Marina Usaceva had sent and received texts on two mobile phones in the 20 minutes prior to a crash in which the driver of the other car was killed.

In mitigation, her defence barrister said that there was a gap of six minutes between using the phones and the accident itself, something he described as “clear water”.

However, sentencing Usaceva to six years in prison, Judge Sean Enright said: “If you were not sending texts at the time, then you were fiddling with your phone and that is what caused the collision. Mobile phone use while driving is a plague on our society.”

Lord Ahmed case highlighted issue

An indication that the courts would highlight mobile phone use as a contributing factor to an accident, irrespective of whether it was actually being used at the actual time of the collision, first came to light with the case of Labour peer Lord Ahmed (fleetnews.co.uk, March 3, 2009).

Ahmed was jailed for 12 weeks after admitting sending texts while driving before his Jaguar ploughed into a stationary car on the M1, killing its driver.

At the time, the judge described his texting as “prolonged, deliberate, repeated and highly dangerous”, even though it was not directly linked to the accident.

Lucy Whitaker, associate at legal firm Rothera Dowson, told Fleet News: “The Usaceva and Lord Ahmed cases show that the courts are increasingly willing to consider the use of a mobile phone prior to an accident as a contributing factor.”

Typically, if a driver is found to have been using a hand-held phone while driving, even where no accident has occurred, the likely result is a £100 fine and three penalty points.
However, in the event of an accident resulting in serious injury or fatality, the defendant faces a custodial sentence.

“If it is shown that the defendant was driving without due care or attention, the penalty for a fatality is up to five years imprisonment, along with disqualification and a potential fine,” said Whitaker.

“For death by dangerous driving, depending on the circumstances, defendants face up to 14 years imprisonment, plus a minimum disqualification period of two years and a discretionary re-test and possible fine.”

Hands-free devices offer no defence

Worryingly for fleets that advocate hands-free systems, company car and van drivers involved in a serious road traffic accident could still fall foul of the law.

Whitaker said: “The use of a hands-free phone while driving could result in similar charges if it is proven that the driving standard fell below that expected of a careful and competent driver, and that the use of the device caused, or contributed to, the incident.

“, the judge stated that although not sending texts at the time of the accident, the driver had been ‘fiddling’ with her phone – an unnecessary distraction that was deemed to have contributed to the accident and resulted in the conviction.

“While there is no suggestion that the courts are stating that phones should be switched off while driving, it is clear that the use of a mobile phone before a road traffic collision will be considered and that there is no real ‘safe-time’ to use a phone, hand-held or otherwise, while driving.”

Questions raised over fleet mobile phone policies

This raises questions about phone policies with a number of fleets stating that drivers should pull over to answer a phone rather than use a hands-free device while driving.

However, should they subsequently cause a crash, phone records would show only that the driver had used their mobile prior to the accident – not that they were stationary at the time of making or taking the call, or sending a text or email.
It is standard practice for police to seize mobile phones from drivers at the scenes of very serious collisions as part of the information and evidence gathering process.

Gloucestershire Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, the lead for roads policing at Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), had to deny issuing guidance to officers to seize mobile phones after every road collision, following newspaper reports (fleetnews.co.uk, July 31).

Nevertheless, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is keen to crack down on motorists illegally making calls or sending texts and has mooted a doubling of the current licence endorsement, from three points to six.

As the latest figures reveal that 380 people were killed on UK roads in the first three months of 2014 – up 13% on 2013 – data suggests that phones contribute to one death every fortnight. Campaigners warn mobile phone distraction will become a bigger killer than drink-driving by 2015.

In 2012, 583,686 drivers were fined £60 and received three points on their licence for using their mobile phone while driving, more than 10 times higher than the 55,300 convictions for drink-driving at that time.

The new rules being considered by Whitehall officials would mean a driver could be banned after committing two mobile phone offences within three years.

A newly-qualified driver could be banned after one offence because their threshold for a ban is six points. The fine could also be increased from £100 to £150.

Road safety charity Brake believes the Government could provide a more effective deterrent if the fine was increased to £500 or £1,000 and there was heightened traffic enforcement, so drivers know they would be caught.

Julie Townsend, Brake deputy chief executive, also urged action on hands-free phones. “Research shows that using a phone hands-free is about as risky as picking up the phone while driving, so this should be included within the ban and carry the same penalty,” she said.

However, fleets remain unconvinced. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents to a TrackCompare poll believed a ban on the use of hands-free phones while driving 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.

But more than 60% acknowledged that the use of a hands-free device while driving does distract drivers, with 21% agreeing that they contribute to serious accidents.

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  • Steve - 22/08/2014 11:15

    Disgraceful that companies said their turnover would reduce by 25% or a half if phones couldnt be used in a car. What a lie. Does that mean that pre-mobile phones company profits were proportionally lower by 25% or 50%, no. Phone use needs to be banned from cars, period. I'm part of the generation that has grown up using mobile phones yet i dont need an iphone or to text or send pictures or tweet all the time. I take and make calls and texts when i need to, the only reason for ihpones and apps and tweets etc is so companies like Apple can make you part with YOUR money for THEIR shareholders. YOU DONT REALLY NEED THEM!!

    • seQTX - 16/09/2014 09:13

      @Steve -

  • Sage & Onion - 22/08/2014 11:19

    This is venturing into territories unknown now, and perhaps is even becoming ridiculous. So if I get in my car and make a call or send a text BEFORE I actually set off, and then have a serious RTC 6 minutes later, then because I was "fiddling" with my phone earlier then that caused the RTC? Similarly, if I do the sensible thing to stop in a safe place to make or take a call or to send or read a text during a journey, and then set off again then I am putting myself at risk of prosecution and even jail? I think there's perhaps more to this story than is being reported here in order to sensationalise it. I would hope that Ms.Usaceva had admitted to "fiddling" with her phone at the time of the accident rather than a judge deciding this on the evidence that it was used six minutes before (when she could have been parked up safely). lets hear the full story before filling fleet managers with fear.

    • Gareth Roberts - 22/08/2014 12:13

      @Sage & Onion - Usaceva admitted causing death by dangerous driving, but denied using the phone at the time of the accident. She had previously been caught twice using her phone behind the wheel and her licence was endorsed in 2009 and 2012. A police examination found Usaceva had used a phone to send a text message at 4.15pm and receive a message at 4.17pm on the day of the incident. And, as the article above says there was a clear gap of six minutes between her use of the phone and the accident. I didn't miss anything out in order to sensationalise the story, I simply wanted to highlight how this and the Lord Ahmed cases show how the courts are looking at serious road traffic collisions and phones, and their use prior to an accident as a potential contributory factor. A point which is backed up by the legal experts operating in this field, illustrated by the comments of Rothera Dowson above. Until a case comes to court where a driver has stopped and used a mobile phone and then been involved in a serious RTA we simply don't know if the courts will take a similar view, but it is important that fleet managers are aware it's not a question of actually using the mobile device when the accident occurs.

  • Steve Knowles - 22/08/2014 11:33

    Why does anyone need to text or phone their every movement at all times of the day. Often users are not making business calls and even if they were, what life do you lead that you need to let everyone know what you are doing that cant wait. What did we do before mobile phones? The more technology advances the more people feel that they have to have it to manage their lives instead of looking at the important use that these devices can add to our lives in emergencies, people use them as part of their bodily functions like breathing. Its been said before, the Police should have more presence on the road as some users are addicted to their phone so much that they are beyond listening to reason

  • Goob_It - 22/08/2014 11:58

    I completely agree that texting or physically using your phone whilst driving is incredibley dangerous and highly unnecessary but using hands-free or bluetooth functions to speak on the phone, how is that anymore of a distraction than having a passenger beside you talking to you or kids in the back talking or screaming or arguing?? Are they going to ban everything in a car that could cause a slight distraction like the radio, the sat nav? Will everyones journeys have to be in silence in case they have a crash? There needs to be a balance...yes if it has been proved that someone was physically handling their prior to a crash that must be taken into consideration when sentancing but if it is shown that someone was speaking on their phone through a hands-free device and the phone itself was not being used then I think that is no different to someone having a conversation with a passenger, regardless of purpose of the conversation. You can't expect people to stop talking on journeys especially long ones, as it could go the other way and there be more crashes caused by tiredness, some people find talking a good way of staying alert.

  • Molly - 22/08/2014 12:47

    Too many people are in thrall to their mobiles and the law rightly exists to control and punish the adverse consequences of their obsession. Those companies complaining about the impact on their profits need to revisit their business model.

  • AJB - 22/08/2014 12:59

    Prosecuted based on something you were not doing - this is a worry. Fit all cars with jammers so phones cannot be used in vehicles or is it not that simple? Ah revenue stream...

  • Philip - 22/08/2014 13:35

    From the article it is not clear that there was any proof that she was fiddling with her mobile. And if a driver stops to use a mobile, then has an RTA shortly afterwards, is it then going to be assumed that they must have been fiddling with their phone just because they used it a short while ago? I doubt that such a conviction will stand if the driver appeals unless there is absolute proof of the "fiddling". I agree that using a hands free whilst driving is a distraction, but do is a passenger talking to you. Best to ban them from all cars, or have them gagged.

  • Busterrabbit - 26/08/2014 13:38

    A ban on hands free phone use would reduce their company's turnover by more than 25%? So over 25% of business turnover is dependent on decisions/conversations made whilst "concentrating" on driving? I wonder how many of these same drivers would travel on a bus/coach if the driver spend a large part of their journey on the phone? The same might apply to HGV drivers. Driving all day every day is rightly seen as a profession, and yet because someone happens to drive a "premium" company car everyday rather than a HGV or bus/coach they feel they can be distracted by phone calls without it affecting their driving. Judging by the dangerous manoeuvres I see committed by company car drivers every day, they are either being distracted or they are just dangerous drivers, even without the distraction of a phone. Or even more likely they are both, luckily most can be identified by the manufacturer's badge on their car, and I think everyone that drives everyday knows which badges often have an arrogant idiot behind the wheel.

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