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Understand the new mobile phone laws

Driving while using a hand-held device became an offence on 1 December 2003. The legislation impacts on both individuals and employers.

A hand-held device is something that "is or must be held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function". This could include cradling the phone between a driver's shoulder and ear.

Examples of 'interactive communication' functions are making and receiving calls, texting, accessing the internet and sending and receiving still or moving images.

There are some exemptions:

  'Press to talk' radios, for example, those used by the emergency services and taxi drivers
  If the phone unit is positioned in a cradle or on the steering wheel of a car or handlebars of a motorbike, leaving the driver's hands free, provided the phone is not held at any point and the driver is in control of the vehicle
  Navigation equipment provided it is not a hand-held device
  Using a hand-held phone for a genuine emergency call to the emergency services where it would be unsafe or impracticable for the driver to stop.
Under the new law, a person is regarded as 'driving' if the vehicle is either moving or stationary with the engine still running, for example, at traffic lights or in traffic jams. So even if the driver has pulled over to make or receive a call they may still be committing an offence if their engine is left running. In severely congested traffic, such as a lengthy motorway stoppage, the driver can use a mobile phone but only if the engine is switched off. Please note it is legal to carry a hand-held mobile phone in a car, and leave it switched on.

Penalties
Under the new law the penalties for individuals is a fixed £30 fine, which can be increased to a maximum fine of £1000 on conviction in court (£2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles or passenger carrying vehicles with 9 or more seats).

Potential employers' liability
This legislation is likely to affect many employees given the growing use of mobile phones for work.

Employers also face potential liability if they 'cause' or 'permit' an employee to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar device while driving or if they fail to forbid employees to use such phones while driving on company business. Employers must therefore develop and communicate a policy forbidding staff from using hand-held mobiles while driving.

Mobile phone policies
It is recommended that employers create a clear mobile phone policy, or an amendment to an existing health and safety policy, that strictly prohibits the use of hand-held phones while driving.

Employers should make it clear that employees, who are driving a vehicle, must not make or receive a call on a hand-held mobile phone unless parked with the engine switched off. Insist also that any employees found in breach of this policy would be subject to the employer's disciplinary procedure.

If it is essential for your employees to be contacted when they are driving, they should be told to let calls go to voicemail and to stop regularly to listen to messages, responding to them only when parked with the engine switched off. Managers should also be advised not to attempt to speak to employees if they know they are driving.

Employers may choose to provide hands-free sets to employees to try and limit potential liability. In this case any policy should also include guidance on using hands-free phones. For example, recommend that calls be kept to a minimum, with no outgoing calls made unless the vehicle is stationary and the engine switched off.

Action Checklist

Develop and communicate a policy forbidding staff from using hand-held mobiles while driving.
Advise your employees that if they were ever found to be in breach of your mobile phone policy they would be subject to a disciplinary procedure.
Consider funding the installation of hand-held cradles into your company vehicles or the vehicles used by your employees while on company business.