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Tougher penalties introduced earlier this month for drivers using hand-held mobile phones may have an impact on employers with employees who use their vehicles for work purposes.

DTM Legal explains.

New Penalties

In a bid to tackle what motoring organisations describe to be an “epidemic” on the roads, the Government has introduced tougher penalties for drivers caught using their hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel.

The sanctions have doubled with drivers now expecting to receive six penalty points and a £200 fine.  Any distraction caused by use of a device, such as checking emails, texting or use of satellite navigation without a cradle, could result in a penalty.

It is irrelevant whether the vehicle is actually moving and it remains an offence to use a phone in a stationary vehicle while the engine is running, for example at traffic lights or in a traffic jam.

Newly qualified drivers will be particularly hard hit as six points result in an automatic ban and there is no option to take a remedial course in lieu of points.

Use of Hands-free

Depending upon the individual circumstances, it can be an offence to use hands-free devices or satellite navigation.

Drivers could be charged with ‘failing to have proper control of their vehicle’ resulting in penalties or, in more serious cases, prosecution for careless or dangerous driving.

Managing Employee Mobile Phone Use

The law not only applies to drivers themselves, but extends to ‘anyone who causes or permits any other person’ to use a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving.

As a result, employers could find themselves at risk of prosecution if they expect, encourage or even allow their employees to maintain regular contact by hand-held mobile phone while out on the road.

The police may check phone records when investigating road traffic accidents to determine if use of a phone contributed to the crash.

It is important that employers ensure that their employees are aware of the rules on use of mobile phones whilst driving, evidenced by properly maintained policies, procedures and training.

Employer Liability

Employers can be held liable for the acts and omissions of their employees committed in the course of employment including criminal offences under the law of vicarious liability.

This could extend to careless, dangerous or death by dangerous driving. In addition, employers are legally obliged to look after the health and safety of their employees and take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure their safety. This is likely to extend to introducing a duty to assess the risks of its arrangements for drivers.

Practical Steps for Employers

Businesses that require employees to make use of a vehicle should review their mobile phone policy or implement one if not already in place. The policy should prohibit the use of hand-held phones whilst driving and should provide guidance on:

  • the dangers of using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone
  • the need to let the phone go to voicemail, or to switch it off while driving, and to stop in a safe way to check messages, or to allow a passenger to use the phone
  • how good communication can easily be maintained without using a phone while driving
  • the importance of line managers not expecting staff to make or receive calls when driving
  • the legal, financial and bad publicity consequences that could result from using a mobile phone while driving

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If you need our help reviewing your business’ current policies and need further information about the tougher penalties, speak to Tom Evans on 0151 230 1217 or e-mail tom.evans@dtmlegal.com.

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