Don’t get distracted when driving

Research indicates that about 150 people are killed or seriously injured every week in crashes involving someone who was driving, riding, or otherwise using the road for work purposes.

According to HSE Guidelines for employers, “Driving at Work”, health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities. Employers must assess the risks involved in their staff’s use of the road for work and implement all “reasonably practicable” measures to manage those risks. These measures are likely to more than pay for themselves by reducing the organisation’s accident costs, many of which are uninsured, such as lost staff time or administrative.

Mobile Phones

One common risk is staff making or receiving calls, texting, or otherwise using a mobile phone while driving. A substantial body of research shows that using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving is a significant distraction and substantially increases the risk of the driver crashing. High mileage and company car drivers are more likely than most to use a mobile phone while driving. Some employers provide mobile phones or reimburse the cost of work-related calls made on private ones, for good business and health and safety reasons, especially for lone workers and staff who travel in remote areas where summoning help (e.g. if they break down) may be difficult. However, this should not mean that staff use the phone while driving.

Drivers who use a mobile phone, whether hand-held or hands-free:

  • Are much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them
  • Fail to see road signs
  • Fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
  • Are more likely to “tailgate” the vehicle in front
  • React more slowly and take longer to brake
  • Are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic
  • Feel more stressed and frustrated

Research indicates that they are also four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves and/or other people. Using a hands-free phone while driving does not significantly reduce the risks because the problems are mainly caused by the mental distraction and divided attention of participating in a phone conversation while driving.

The Law

Hand-held Phones

It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile while driving. It is also an offence to “cause or permit” a driver to use a hand-held mobile while driving. Therefore, employers can be held liable, as well as the individual driver, if they require employees to use a hand-held phone while driving.

Hands-free Phones 

Using a hands-free phone while driving can also be illegal. Depending on the circumstances, drivers could be charged with “failing to have proper control over their vehicle.” In more serious cases, any use of a mobile phone could lead to prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. Police may check phone records when investigating fatal and serious crashes to determine if phone use contributed to the incident. Employers who require staff to use any mobile phone while driving for work could face prosecution if investigations find such phone use contributed to a crash. Claims in civil courts may also arise.

This guide provides simple advice on how employers and line managers can enjoy the business and communication benefits of mobile phones without exposing themselves to the financial and safety risks associated with staff using mobile phones while driving on work journeys.

What Employers should do

Expect Safe Driving

Ensure all staff, including senior managers and line managers, understand that the organisation expects everyone who drives for work to prioritise safe driving for their own and others’ benefit.

Consult Staff

Ensure that staff and/or their safety representatives are fully consulted about the organisation’s policy on mobile phones and driving. This should be reviewed periodically in joint health and safety committee meetings.

Raise Awareness

As a part of recruitment, training, and staff appraisal, remind drivers and line managers about:

  • The dangers of using a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving.
  • The organisation’s policy on mobile phone use.
  • The importance of letting calls go to voicemail or switching off while driving, and stopping in a safe place to check messages or allowing a passenger to use the phone.
  • How good communication can 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 reputational consequences that could result from using a mobile phone while driving.

Avoid Using a Mobile Phone 

Emphasise that staff should never make or receive calls, send or read texts or emails, or surf the internet on a mobile phone or any similar device while driving.

Lead by Example

Senior managers, from the head of the organisation down, should be lead by personal example by not using a mobile phone while they are driving themselves.

Plan Safer Journeys

Ensure that journey plans include time and places to stop for rest, refreshment, and to check messages and return calls.

Review Work Practices

Review work practices to ensure they do not pressure or encourage staff into making or receiving calls while driving.

Record and Investigate Crashes and Incidents

Require staff who involved in any crash or damage only incident while driving for work (in their own, hired, or company vehicle) to report this to their line manager. Check if the driver was using a mobile phone and take necessary action to prevent repeat occurrences. If the company provides the phone, check against the phone bill.

Provide Training

Interview staff identified as using a phone while driving or involved in a car crash to gather details and identify lessons learned. Consider if additional driving training would help.

Liaise with the Police 

Make it clear to staff that the organisation will cooperate with police inquiries following a crash. Supply all relevant information on the employee to whom the vehicle is allocated or anyone else driving at the time.

Monitor Compliance

Recent surveys spotted around 3% of car drivers and 5% of van and lorry drivers use either a hand-held or hands-free phone. Encourage drivers to raise concerns with their line managers and encourage line managers and ensure positive responses. This helps identify and manage factors that contributing to phone use. Staff should be encouraged to report any pressure from managers or customers to use a phone while driving. Note that that some staff, especially younger or newer employees, may not feel comfortable raising concerns for fear of impcating their relationship with the company or manager.