Using mobile phones while driving - a timely reminder

April 30, 2009

Many readers will have seen the recent press coverage surrounding an individual who was jailed for sending texts while driving before a fatal crash occurred. The individual received a custodial sentence after he admitted texting at the wheel shortly before his car hit a stationary vehicle, killing its driver. The judge in the case emphasised the serious nature of this type of offence.

The use of mobile phones in employment

For many of us, mobile phones and other handheld communication devices are an essential feature of our social and work lives. Many employees, particularly those whose duties require them to travel in the course of their employer’s business, are issued with such devices and will often be expected to remain in contact whenever they are away from the workplace. This can provide significant benefits to the employer (by increasing their ability to communicate with key employees) and to employees (for example, by facilitating more flexible or family-friendly working arrangements). However, employees who are required to drive in the course of their employment, and their employers, must be aware of the dangers that can arise from the use of handheld devices while driving.

Using mobile phones and driving - the risks

Incidents of drivers using mobile phones are, unfortunately, common, and the case referred to above serves as an important reminder of the potentially serious consequences of this activity. Notwithstanding the obvious health and safety risks involved, it is also important to be aware of the associated legal risks. It is unlawful for drivers to use a handheld mobile phone, or similar device, while driving. In addition, it is an offence to “cause or permit” a driver to use a handheld mobile phone while driving, and this is an offence for which an employer that requires an employee to use a mobile phone while driving may be liable.

Criminal penalties

The penalty for using a handheld mobile phone while driving is currently a £60 fine (which may rise to £1,000 if the matter is dealt with in court) plus three penalty points. However, motorists caught driving dangerously while using a handheld phone may face a jail sentence under current Crown Prosecution Service guidelines. In addition, motorists involved in an accident while using a handheld device may find that their insurance cover is invalidated.

Policies on the use of mobile phones

Many employers have specific policies in place that set out rules and requirements regulating the use of mobile phones and similar devices at work. Aside from general issues such as security and personal use, a good mobile phone policy should take into account health and safety issues associated with mobile phone use and comply with legislation on using mobile phones while driving. Some employers impose a ban on using mobile phones while driving, and some permit use with hands-free equipment only. Given the risks associated with using mobile phones while driving, policies often stipulate that disciplinary action can result in the event of a breach of policy.

It seems unlikely that the use of mobile phones for personal and business purposes will diminish, and it is therefore important that phone users and employers are aware of the risks and the potentially serious consequences if those risks are not addressed.

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