The number of possible in-car distractions has increased significantly in the smart phone age. Harrison Drury HR expert Helen Darbyshire offers advice for how employers can reduce the risk of harm to staff and other road users, as well as managing the financial and reputational risks to the business.
The new fines and points regime for drivers caught making calls and texting at the wheel has brought the issue into sharper focus in recent days.
Under the new rules, which came into effect on March 1, drivers caught using handheld mobile phones will get six points on their licence and face a £200 fine. This doubles the old penalties (3 points and £100 fine) and, in addition, newly qualified drivers may be forced to re-take their test.
This escalation in severity is part of a wider government campaign – Think! – designed to change behaviour by making phone-use while driving every bit as unacceptable as drink-driving or not wearing a seatbelt.
Why is this an issue for employers?
Individuals are clearly responsible for driving safely when in their own time – but is there a liability employers need to be aware of?
Employers are advised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that “health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety system”. This being the case, it’s clear that employers have the same duty of care to those ‘out and about’ as they do to those in the office.
In addition to it being illegal to use a hand-held phone, it’s also an offence to “cause or permit” a driver to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. Therefore, employers can technically be held liable if they require employees to use hand-held phones while driving.
It is also important to note that, while you can use a hands-free phone while driving, you can still be prosecuted if you are not in proper control of the vehicle. Further, in the event of an accident, the police may check phone records when investigating serious or fatal crashes to establish if phone use was a contributory factor. Employers could therefore find themselves implicated if one of their drivers, even on a hands-free phone, is found to have not been in control of their vehicle.
Research indicates that about 150 people are killed, or seriously injured, every week in crashes which involve someone who was on the road for work purposes. How people behave while driving for work is therefore absolutely something which employers should consider.
What can and / or should employers do?
The safest position is of course, quite simply, that drivers should be told not to use their devices for calls, mails, texts or internet surfing, or indeed any other activity, while driving.
There are also an additional number of steps which employers can take as recommended by RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) in their leaflet “Driving for work: Mobile Phones”.
The leaflet, produced with the support of the Department for Transport, offers suggestions about how employers can educate their employees, underline their commitment to safe driving and clarify their expectation that drivers will drive safely. These include:
- Set a clear expectation that people will drive safely when driving for work-related reasons. This can be unambiguously communicated in the relevant policies or sections of the handbook.
- Consult with staff, or safety representatives, about the organisation’s relevant policies, for example ‘Driving on company business’, ‘Driving company vehicles’ and the ‘Health and Safety Policy’ etc.
- Review policies regularly to make sure they stay relevant.
- Remind drivers, at recruitment and at appropriate intervals thereafter, for example when issued with a car or van, about the relevant policies. Reiterate:
- The dangers of using mobile devices while driving
- The organisation’s policy on device use while driving (clearly and unambiguously stating it should not be done)
- The company’s expectation that you will let calls go to voicemail, or switch the phone off completely, when driving
- That if you do need to check messages you will do so when safely stopped
- That there is no management expectation for you to take calls while driving
- That there are potentially severe consequences to even momentary lapses
- That the lack of concentration is dangerous not only to the employee but to other road users and pedestrians as well
- Emphasise the company position that employees should not make or receive calls, send or read texts (or e-mails) or surf the internet on a phone, or other device, while driving.
- Lead by example through senior managers who should be beyond reproach. It will be difficult to credibly hold the company line if senior personnel adopt a “Do as I say not as I do …” approach.
- Ensure that, when travel is required, there is built-in planning of safer journeys, for example allowing longer journey times and planning in suitable rest stops.
- Review work practices to ensure that the company message is being reinforced. It is important that local departmental practices are not operated counter to the overarching instruction to drive safely.
- Where there are incidents record and investigate them. This will help you identify if there are any areas of concern which need to be managed.
- Address the issue with drivers who are witnessed using devices while driving and explain the company position. Provide training if appropriate to underpin and reinforce the required standard (and document that you have done so). Hopefully education will correct the behaviour but you may wish to consider managing it formally through a disciplinary procedure.
- Explain that the company will work with the police regarding any enquiries received regarding company vehicles.
- Encourage drivers to raise concerns with their line manager.
From a personnel record perspective, you may also wish to ask the employee to read the relevant policy and make sure they have the opportunity to ask any questions they may have.
When they are comfortable with the content ask them to sign the policy to show that they have read and understood it and to underline the point that they are agreeing to abide by it.
For more information on how this issue might affect your business, or any other HR and employment law matter contact Helen on 01772 258321.
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