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Van Advice Part 4 - Use of mobile phones and hands-free kit

Research shows that people who use mobile phones whilst driving are four times more likely to have a collision.

Research has shown that drivers’ reaction times when using any type of mobile phone (hand-held or hands-free) whilst driving can be worse than those of someone driving under the influence of alcohol (Direct Line Mobile Phone Report 2002).

The penalties for careless or dangerous driving are substantially higher than for the specific offence of using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving. Furthermore, it has been suggested that employers could also face prosecution for causing or permitting these offences by providing hands-free phone kits in company vehicles for staff to use, if safe use policies and practices are not put in place. Even those who make calls to drivers may be liable. Health and safety legislation may also be invoked when looking at work-related incidents.

Driver offences and penalties

A specific offence of using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving has been on the statute books since 1 December 2003. However, the offence of failing to have proper control of the vehicle is long-standing and may be used to deal with incidents where the driver has been distracted by any equipment including hands-free mobile phones.

More serious offences of careless or dangerous driving, causing death by careless or dangerous driving and even manslaughter are also available to prosecutors if the distraction can be proved.

Specific offence of using hand-held equipment

It is an offence to drive a vehicle whilst using a hand-held mobile phone or hand-held communication device, which transmits or receives data. This data includes:

· phone calls

· text messages

· facsimile messages

· pictures or video/film/TV footage

· internet access

A phone or device is hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of using it. This includes being held by a part of the body other than the hand – for example if it is cradled between the driver’s ear and their shoulder. The use of two-way radios is not included in this offence, but see the section below.

Supervisors of learner drivers are also prohibited from using hand-held equipment whilst the learner is driving.

The driver or supervisor is not committing an offence if he/she is using the hand-held equipment whilst driving to call the emergency services on 999 or 112 in response to a genuine emergency – but only if it is unsafe or impracticable to stop driving to make the emergency call.

The penalties for non-compliance are a fixed penalty of three penalty points and a fine of £60. If the driver or enforcement officer chooses to take the matter to court, the driver faces a maximum fine of £2,500 for goods or passenger vehicles with more than eight passenger seats, or £1,000 in any other case, three penalty points and the possibility of being disqualified from driving.

The conviction could also lead to the suspension or revocation of the driver/supervisor’s vocational driving licence by a Traffic Commissioner.

Offence of proper control –hands-free and other equipment

It is an offence to drive a vehicle in a position which does not give proper control of the vehicle or a full view of the road and traffic ahead. This long-standing offence covers a multitude of situations, including being distracted and not having proper control of the vehicle whilst:

· having a conversation on a hands-free phone

· pressing the keys on a hands-free phone

· eating a sandwich

· smoking

· talking to passengers in the vehicle

· map reading

· using satellite navigation systems

· using a two-way radio

· changing a CD or the radio station

The above offence also requires a full view of the road ahead. A driver may not have a full view ahead if:

· a satellite navigation system is poorly placed, interfering with the driver’s view to the front

· there is ice or mist on the windscreen blocking the view ahead

· there are furry dice, Christmas lights or stickers crowding the windscreen

The penalties for non-compliance are a fixed penalty of three penalty points and a fine of £60. If the driver or enforcement officer chooses to take the matter to court, the driver faces a maximum fine of £2,500 for goods or passenger vehicles with more than eight passenger seats, or £1,000 in any other case, three penalty points and the possibility of being disqualified from driving.

The conviction could also lead to the suspension or revocation of the driver’s vocational driving licence by a Traffic Commissioner.

For the full article on mobile phone usage visit http://www.vanexcellence.co.uk/download/index.html

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