Distracted Driving

Driving is the most dangerous activity that most of us carry out in our daily lives

Driving is the most dangerous activity that most of us carry out in our daily lives

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.

HSE Guidelines for employers, “Driving at work”, sate 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”. Therefore, employers must assess the risks involved in their staff’s use of the road for work and put in place all “reasonably practicable” measures to manage those risks. Such measures are likely to more than pay for themselves by reducing the organisation’s accidents costs, many of which will be uninsured, such as lost staff time or just doing paper work.

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. There are good business reasons to do so. There are also good health and safety reasons for lone workers and staff who travel in areas where summoning help (if they break down, for example) may be difficult. But, 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 caused mainly by the mental distraction and divided attention of taking part in a phone conversation at the same time as 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 

It can be illegal to use a hands-free phone while driving. Depending upon the individual circumstances, drivers could be charged with “failing to have proper control over their vehicle”. In more serious cases, the use of any type of mobile phone could result in prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. The Police may check phone records when investigating fatal and serious crashes to determine if use of a phone contributed to the crash. Employers who require staff to use any mobile phone while driving for work could be prosecuted if an investigation determined that such use of the phone contributed to a crash. Claims in civil courts could also result. This guide gives simple advice on how employers and line managers can easily enjoy business and communication benefits of mobile phones, without experiencing the financial and safety risk of 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 drive safely for their own and other’s benefit.

Consult Staff – Ensure that staff and/or their safety representatives are fully consulted about the organisation’s policy on mobile phones and driving and that this is reviewed periodically in joint health and safety committee meetings.

Raise Awareness- As a part f 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 need to let the phone go to voicemail or to switch off while driving and to stop in a safe place to check messages or to allow a passenger to use the phone.
  • That 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 PR consequences that could result from using a mobile phone while driving.

Avoid using a mobile Phone – In particular, 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 examples 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 and refreshment, and to check messages and return calls.

Review Work Practices – Review work practices to ensure they do not pressurise or encourage staff into making or receiving calls when driving.

Record and Investigate Crashes and Incidents- Require staff who involved in any crash or damage only incident when driving at work (in their own, a hire or company vehicle) to report this to their line manager. Check if there driver was using a mobile phone and what (if any) action is necessary to prevent repeat occurrences. If the company provides the phone, a check could be made against the phone bill.

Provide Training- Interview staff that have been identified as using a phone while driving, or been involved in a crash, to establish the details and to identify what lessons can be learned. Consider if driving training would help.

Liaise with the Police – Make it clear to staff that the organisation will co-operate with the police enquiries resulting from a crash and will supply to the police all relevant information on the employees to whom the vehicle is allocated or someone else was driving at the time, their details.

Monitor Compliance- Recent surveys spotted around 3% of car drivers and 5% of van and lorry drivers using either a hand-held or hands-free phone. Encourage drivers to raise concerns with their line managers and encourage line managers to respond positively. This will help to identify and manage the factors that make drivers more likely to use a mobile phone while driving. Staff should be encourages to report any pressure from managers or customers to use a phone while driving. Be aware that some staff, especially younger employees or those new to the company, may not feel able to raise concerns for fear of jeopardising their relationship with the company their manager.

There were 9,737 casualties on NI roads last year...

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