It has recently been reported by the BBC that the police are embarking on a week-long crackdown on the use of mobile phones whilst driving.
It has recently been reported by the BBC that the police are embarking on a week-long crackdown on the use of mobile phones whilst driving by increasing the number of unmarked police cars on the UK’s busiest roads and employing other techniques such as the use of helmet cams and high seated vehicles in order to catch drivers. This is an ever increasing hot topic as in 2017 the penalties for the commission of this driving offence are increasing to six penalty points and a financial penalty of £200.
The Department for Transport has recently released the response to the consultation that was undertaken “on change to the FPN and penalty points for the use of a hand held mobile phone whilst driving”. The consultation concluded that “there was overwhelming support for increasing the Fixed Penalty Notice and also for increasing the penalty points for the offence…” although the consultation had been focused on increasing the financial penalty to £150 and penalty points to four from three. Given the overwhelming support the decision was made to go beyond the suggested increase up to six penalty points and a £200 fine (an increase of 100%). Further there will be no remedial course offered to first time offenders.
It was suggested in consultation that there might be some differentiation between cars and HGVs giving some greater leniency towards car drivers but this has since been rejected on the basis of the “tragic consequences which can result from any driver using a mobile phone when driving it is important that all drivers understand the consequences of their actions.” The changes will come into force next year but what does it mean for you?
Vocational drivers who have been caught using a mobile telephone will face regulatory action from the Traffic Commissioner. First time offenders will be issued with a warning letter so long as they were not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the offence. A second time offender or first time offender in a commercial vehicle will be called to a driver conduct hearing and will receive a suspension of their vocational entitlement of between 3 and 16 weeks depending on the circumstances and previous adverse conduct history. However, Traffic Commissioners already have the power to revoke a vocational entitlement if an HGV or PSV driver reaches six penalty points and as such with the new penalty increase this may also be an option for them if a driver is caught.
Traffic Commissioners are very interested to know the details of these offences such as whether a driver was on the phone to his employer or using his phone in the course of his work; if the answer is yes on either count this may cause the licence holder to be called to account at the risk of regulatory action.
Even if the driver has acted of their own volition there is of course the commercial impact of having a driver being suspended from driving and therefore it is important that you issue clear guidance to your drivers and employees on the use of mobile telephones especially when they have been issued by the company.
Mobile devices – what should employers do now?
As mobile devices such as smartphones become more and more sophisticated (and, as a result, an integral part of our daily lives), the temptation for drivers to use them when they should not is an increasingly relevant and pressing issue for employers to consider. Whilst mobile devices can be a vital method of employers communicating with their staff during the working day, they can also be a real distraction and present great danger to employees and the wider public if used inappropriately.
Furthermore, in the era of dash-cams – and the ability for anyone to share footage on YouTube – any evidence of drivers’ illegal actions in company vehicles can be quickly and easily broadcast worldwide for anyone to see, with the damage to a vehicle operator’s reputation taking much longer to repair.
Clearly, for an employer, from both a financial and reputational perspective, prevention of such incidents is greatly preferable to attempting an after-the-event ‘cure’. Accordingly, we are seeing that a well-drafted policy covering both the personal and business use of mobile devices (including phones, laptops and tablet computers as necessary) is emerging as a vital tool in the employer’s armoury for setting the boundaries of when, where and how such devices should be used by their drivers – and indeed employees generally.
Making it clear that use of mobile equipment contrary to the policy will be a disciplinary offence will be important to act as both an incentive for employees to comply with it, as well as setting out the action they may face in the event of non-compliance (with instant dismissal on the basis of gross misconduct cited as a possibility in the case of most serious breaches).
It is apparent that the consequences of using electronic devices inappropriately can extend far beyond an employee incurring points on their licence, so it is vital that if you operate vehicles as part of your business you take a proactive stance to tackling this issue.
Do be in touch if we can assist with reviewing or drafting a policy to help you and your employees stay on the right side of the law.
The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding the use of mobile phones whilst driving please contact Catherine Johnson. Law covered as at December 2016.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at December 2016.