17 June 2019

MPs launch new inquiry as concern mounts over drivers' mobile phone use

Concern is mounting among MPs at the number of drivers using a mobile phone and flouting the law.

Research shows:

  • Drivers are four times more likely to be in a crash if they use their phone
  • Reaction times are twice as slow if they text and drive than if they drink-drive, increasing to three times if using a hand-held phone.

The Committee is considering:

  • Use of mobile phones by drivers and the risks posed
  • The adequacy of legislation relating to mobile phone use by motorists
  • How enforcement and education around mobile phone use can be improved.

While it is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone when driving, use of a hands-free phone is legal. However, the Government says that use of a hands-free phone while driving is equally as dangerous with drivers slower at recognising and reacting to hazards.

Furthermore, employers could be prosecuted if any police investigation determined that an employer required use of any mobile phone while driving for work contributed to a crash. Additionally, compensation claims from victims could be pursued in the civil courts.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into road safety, has this week embarked on a detailed investigation into road safety and mobile phone use.

Committee chairman Lilian Greenwood said: "Research shows that using a hand-held mobile phone impairs driving more than being above the drink-drive limit. In 2017 mobile phone use was a contributory factor in collisions leading to 773 casualties, including 43 fatalities. This is clearly unacceptable.

"The written evidence submitted to our inquiry suggests the use of mobile phones while driving is an issue of real concern. It has been against the law to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving since 2003, but there is still a significant minority of drivers who flout the law and continue to use their mobile phone when they are driving.

"We will be asking why so many drivers continue to break the law by using their phone while they are driving; whether the law in this area is fit for purpose; how the Government can better educate the public about the risks of driving while using a mobile phone; and how it can ensure the law can be enforced."

Drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone while on the move receive six penalty points on their licence and a £200 fine. Additionally, if having passed the driving test in the past two years a driver will lose their licence. Drivers can also be taken to court where they can be banned from driving or riding and receive a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if driving a lorry or bus). Drivers can also receive three penalty points on their licence if they don't have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of a vehicle.

Employers should have a 'mobile phone policy' as part of their driving at work policy that states that employees should not use their mobile phones - including to make or receive calls - while driving. The policy should be communicated to driving staff on a regular basis and discussed with them - typically during team meetings and at appraisals.

Best practice also suggests that checks are undertaken to ensure that mobile phone policy procedures are followed by employees.

What's more, best practice dictates that journey plans should include time to check mobile phone messages and make or return telephone calls. Employers should also review working practices to ensure they are not pressuring staff into making or receiving calls when driving.

While road safety experts acknowledge that there are good business and health and safety - lone works and staff who may need to summon help - reasons for employers to provide mobile phones or reimburse the cost of work-related calls made on private phones, it should be made clear to employees not to use a phone while driving. Instead they should park in a safe place and turn a vehicle's engine off prior to using any mobile phone.

The RAC's 'Be Phone Smart' campaign challenges people to rethink their attitude to using a mobile phone when they are driving. It suggests they think about the following:

  • If you use a handheld phone at the wheel, ask yourself what couldn't wait until you got out of your vehicle?
  • What are the chances of missing something genuinely important while you're driving?
  • Consider the consequences of getting caught using a handheld phone at the wheel - the embarrassment, the hassle, the points, the fact you might even lose your licence, and the impact that would have on your life
  • Think how you would feel if you were responsible for causing a crash because you let yourself be distracted by your phone
  • If you know, or think, you're tempted to use a hand-held mobile phone at the wheel, put it away. If it's out of sight, and silenced, you know you can stay focused on the road ahead.