Mobile Phones and Driving

Also available to download: Mobile Phones and Driving (PDF 122kb)

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.

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, take longer to brake and longer to stop
  • are more likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic
  • feel more stressed and frustrated.

They are also four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves and 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

On 1 December 2003, a law, "The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003", came into force to prohibit drivers using a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, while driving. It also made it an offence to "cause or permit" a driver to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, or to use a hand-held mobile phone while supervising a driver who only has a provisional licence.

The penalties were initially a fixed penalty of £30 or a fine of up to £1,000 if the offender goes to court (£2,500 for drivers of goods vehicles or passenger carrying vehicles with 9 or more passenger seats). From 27th February 2007, the penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving increased to £60 and three penalty points added to the drivers' licence.

The Definition of a Hand-Held Mobile Phone

The Regulation includes any "device, other than a two-way radio, which performs an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data".

It states that a "mobile telephone or other device is to be treated as hand-held if it is, or must be, held at some point during the course of making or receiving a call or performing any other interactive communication function". "interactive communication function" includes:

  1. sending or receiving oral or written messages;
  2. sending or receiving facsimile documents;
  3. sending or receiving still or moving images; and
  4. providing access to the internet

There are two exemptions:

  • 2- way "press to talk" radios, such as used by the emergency services and taxi drivers
  • Using a hand-held phone for a genuine emergency call to 999 or 112 if it would be unsafe for the driver to stop.

The Definition of Driving

Under existing law a person may be regarded as "driving" a vehicle while the engine is running and the vehicle is stationary. The offence applies to all motor vehicles, including motorcycles, but not apply to pedal cycles.

Hands-Free Mobile Phones

Unfortunately, in RoSPA's view, this law does not ban the use of hands-free mobile phones. Although the government accepts the evidence that using a hands-free phone while driving distracts the driver and increases the risk of an accident, they do not think a hands-free ban would be enforceable. RoSPA disagrees.

Drivers should also note that the existing law requiring drivers to be in proper control of their vehicle, or careless or dangerous driving laws can be applied to driving while using a hands-free phone, if the police believe the nature of the driving warrants it.

Despite the law and the dangers, a proportion of drivers persist in using their mobiles while driving. Surveys conducted in 2009 found that 2.9% of car drivers, and 5% of van and lorry drivers, were talking on either a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone.

As can be seen in the graphs below, the use of hand-held mobile phones by drivers reduced after the introduction of the law in 2003, then gradually rose gain, before decreasing when the penalty was increased in 2007 (marked with vertical black lines). Unfortunately, the number of drivers using hand-held and hands-free mobile phones has been increasing steadily since mid 2007.  1

Trends in Hand-held and Hands-free Mobile Phone Use by Car, Van & Lorry Drivers (Weekdays)

The use of hand-held mobile phones reduced after the introduction of the law in 2003.

Surveys of mobile phones use by drivers in London found a substantial increase in 2009, particularly in the use of hands-free phones, and amongst taxi and van drivers. Overall, the rates in London were much higher than the national rates. 2

Employers

The law includes an offence of "causing or permitting" a driver to use a hand-held phone while driving. This can apply to employers who will be guilty of an offence if they require or permit their staff who drive for work, to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.

Employers would be unwise to respond by supplying their staff with hands-free kits. Even if the use of these while driving does not contravene the specific ban on hand-held phones, employers could fall foul of health and safety laws if an investigation determined the use of the phone contributed to an accident.

The "Driving at Work" 3 Guide from the Health and Safety Executive makes it clear that employers have a duty under health and safety law to manage the risks faced by their employees on the road. And one of the biggest risks they face is when using mobile phones while at the wheel. Research clearly shows that using a hands-free phone while driving is just as dangerous as using a hand-held phone – there is little point in having both hands connected to the steering wheel, if the brain is not connected to the hands.

There are good reasons for providing mobile phones to staff who drive for work, especially for lone workers and staff who will be travelling through areas where access to a public phone is difficult. If a member of staff breaks down, for example, they need to be able to summon help. Some employers provide mobile phones for certain staff and others reimburse the cost of work related calls made on private mobile phones.

But, this should not mean that staff use the phone while driving. As part of the management of work related road safety, employers should provide employees with clear guidance on the use of mobile phones. The use of hand-held or hands-free phones while driving should be prohibited, particularly as there is a simple alternative – let the phone take messages and return calls when stopped in a safe place.

RoSPA has produced a free guide, "Driving for Work: Mobile Phones" 4 (PDF 297kb) to help employers and line managers ensure that their staff do not use mobile phones while driving.

References

1 "Mobile Phone Use by Drivers: 2009, Survey Results for England", Department for Transport, 2010
2 "Mobile Phone and Seat Belt Usage Rates in London, 2009", TRL PPR 418, 2009
3 "Driving at Work: Managing Work Related Road Safety", INDG382, HSE, 2003, www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf
4 "Driving for Work: Mobile Phones", RoSPA, 2004, updated 2011, www.rospa.com/roadsafety/info/workmobiles.pdf

*RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.

Page Ref. No.: RS0036 / Date Created: 2002 / Date Updated: 26/01/2012 / Author: KC/DV

Share this page: