Since 2003, it has been illegal to use a hand-held mobile telephone whilst driving but, until recently, it carried only a £30 fixed penalty. Despite this, over 21% of drivers admit committing the offence and Home Office figures for 2004 showed that nearly 74,000 fixed penalty notices were issued in
Since 27th February 2007, under the new Road Safety Act 2006, the maximum fine for mobile phone use increased to £1,000 for a car driver and rises to £2,500 for the driver of a heavy goods vehicle or passenger service vehicle. More significantly, the offence also now carries 3 penalty points or a driving ban and adds to insurance premiums. In fact, research with on line insurance providers has shown that 6 points can increase insurance premiums by as much as 44% (see www.lawontheweb.co.uk).
Research based on the mobile phone records of drivers involved in crashes suggests a four-fold increase in the likelihood of an accident when using a mobile telephone at the wheel, even when a hands-free kit is used. Experts suggest that hands-free technology increases the use of mobile telephones whilst driving and in turn increases, rather than eliminates, the risk. So, even using a hands-free kit can land you in hot water if you are not in proper control of your vehicle whilst using the device. The wide legal definition of “driving” means that the new law can apply even if your vehicle is not in motion, such as when you’re stopped at traffic lights or heavy traffic. The only exceptions to the rule are 999 or 112 calls in a genuine emergency where it would be unsafe or impractical to stop. Although using two way radio equipment when driving is not a specific offence in itself, this also could lead to a prosecution for failing to have proper control of your vehicle.
The police now routinely obtain mobile phone records of drivers involved in serious road accidents. These records are often relied on in evidence and used to justify a serious charge of Driving without Due Care and Attention, or even Dangerous Driving. Use of mobile telephones at the time of an accident is regarded as an aggravating feature by the Courts in a similar way that drink driving is. It will increase the chances of a custodial sentence in serious cases.
Employers don’t escape lightly either. If your working practices effectively mean that your drivers are made or encouraged to make or receive calls while driving, then, under existing laws, the employer could be prosecuted for a causing or permitting offence. The requirement for employers to assess risks under health and safety law applies to employees driving at work. Employers must consider their drivers’ needs to make or receive calls and take steps to protect themselves in the event of prosecution. Indeed, employers are legally obliged to have a policy on mobile phone use if they are to avoid liability. Telling staff not to do it or even providing hands-free kits may not be sufficient. Although a business cannot be given penalty points in the same way that a driver can, it can still be heavily fined and convictions can lead to companies having to pay more for company vehicle insurance. Even worse, if there were evidence of a company actively encouraging mobile phone use by their drivers on the roads, then, in fatal road traffic cases, the prospect of corporate manslaughter charges against the company directors could arise.
Yet, despite all of this, neither employers nor their drivers seem to be getting the message. Research suggests that around 30% of company drivers still use mobile phones while driving on company business and, (according to headset provider, Jabra) although 68% of employers are aware of the law, 22% of them still do not have a policy on in-vehicle mobile phone use for company business.
The Courts don’t shy away from enforcing these laws. I recently represented a bus driver who was worried about a sick relative at home. He could not resist the temptation to read a text message whilst driving and ended up in Court. The Police summonsed him to Court and, despite there being no evidence that he had driven erratically at all, the magistrates threatened to disqualify him from driving. I persuaded the Court to let him keep his licence, but he found the whole experience very frightening, especially the prospect of losing his livelihood. His case was a lesson to all professional drivers. The message is, “don’t do it!”