New Police Technology to Find Mobile Phone-Using Drivers

New technology developed for use by the police and road safety groups to cut the volume of people using a mobile phone while driving underlines the importance of employers having in place a robust policy to eliminate usage.

To crackdown on the volume of drivers using a mobile phone whilst driving, Thames Valley Police and Hampshire’s Joint Operations Roads Policing Unit have become the first forces in the country to utilise new technology to help reduce the amount of people using their mobile phones whilst driving.

Working with technology company Westcotec, the Joint Operations Unit is using the system to detect when drivers are using their phones without using a hands free device.

First piloted by Norfolk County Council’s Road Safety team at various locations last year, the technology is able to identify what type of signal is being transmitted or received by a mobile phone handset and whether it is being used via a vehicle’s Bluetooth system. When the relevant signal is detected indicating that a mobile phone is being used within a vehicle, a road sign - similar to a speed warning sign - is activated as the vehicle passes, giving a specific flashing visual message designed to prompt a driver to stop using their phone.

  • Using a mobile phone - hand-held or hands-free - while driving is deemed to be a major driving distraction with attention taken away from the key task of driving. At-work drivers are more likely than most to use a mobile phone while driving and, according to research, users are four times more likely to crash, injuring or killing themselves and/or other people.
  • Using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving is illegal. The penalty is £200 and six penalty points, with a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if driving a lorry or bus) if the case goes to court. If a case goes to court, the person may be disqualified from driving. Drivers can use hands-free phones when driving. However, if a police officer thinks a driver was distracted and not in control of their vehicle they could still get stopped and penalised.

Furthermore, employers could be prosecuted if any police investigation determined that an employer required use of any mobile phone while driving for work contributed to a crash. Additionally, compensation claims from victims could be pursued in the civil courts.

With mobile phones increasingly used in different ways - to make and receive telephone calls, send and receive texts and emails, surf the internet, take, send and receive photos or films, to use apps and as a satellite navigation device - the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Driving at Work: Managing Work-related Road Safety’ guide says: “Health and safety law applies to work activities and employers need to manage the risks to drivers as part of health and safety arrangements.”

Employers should have a ‘mobile phone policy’ as part of their driving at work policy that states that employees should not use their mobile phones - including to make or receive calls - while driving. The policy should be communicated to driving staff on a regular basis and discussed with them - typically during team meetings and at appraisals.

Best practice also suggests that checks are undertaken to ensure that mobile phone policy procedures are followed by employees.

What’s more, best practice dictates that journey plans should include time to check mobile phone messages and make or return telephone calls. Employers should also review working practices to ensure they are not pressuring staff into making or receiving calls when driving.

While road safety experts acknowledge that there are good business and health and safety - lone works and staff who may need to summon help - reasons for employers to provide mobile phones or reimburse the cost of work-related calls made on private phones, it should be made clear to employees not to use a phone while driving. Instead they should park in a safe place and turn a vehicle’s engine off prior to using any mobile phone.

In the event of a driver being involved in any crash or damage-only incident, employer investigations should identify if a mobile phone was in use at the time.

The new technology was piloted at known ‘hotspots’ as part of the National Police Chief’s Council campaign against mobile phone use whilst driving.

PC Liz Johnson, a roads safety officer for the Joint Operations Roads Policing Unit, said: “Research shows us that you are four times more likely to crash if you are using a mobile phone whilst driving, reaction times are around 50% slower than a driver not using a mobile phone.

“It is also apparent that drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal collision when texting compared with drink-driving. It is vital that people take notice and stop using their mobile phones whilst driving.”

Chris Spinks, managing director of Westcotec, said: “Our system is designed to provide intelligence to police officers so that they can carry out enforcement activity in order to reduce the amount of people who are using mobile phones illegally on our roads.”

Sample company mobile phones and driving policy

Staff driving for work must never make or receive calls on a mobile phone, whether hand-held or hands-free, while driving. Persistent failure to do so will be regarded as a serious matter.
Senior Managers must:

  • Lead by example, both in the way they drive themselves and by not tolerating poor driving practice among colleagues.
  • Never use a mobile phone while driving.
  • Line managers must ensure:
  • They also lead by personal example
  • They do not expect staff to answer calls when they are driving
  • Staff understand their responsibilities not to use a hand-held or hands-free mobile phone while driving
  • Staff switch phones to voicemail, or switch them off, while driving, or ask a passenger to use the phone
  • Staff plan journeys to include rest stops which also provide opportunities to check messages and return calls
  • Work practices do not pressurise staff to use a mobile phone while driving
  • Compliance with the mobile phone policy is included in team meetings and staff appraisals and periodic checks are conducted to ensure that the policy is being followed
  • They follow company monitoring, reporting and investigation procedures to help learn lessons which could help improve our future road safety performance
  • They challenge unsafe attitudes and behaviours, encourage staff to drive safely, and lead by personal example by never themselves using a phone when driving.

Staff who drive for work must

  • Never use a hand-held or hands-free phone while driving
  • Plan journeys so they include rest stops when messages can be checked and calls returned
  • Ensure their phone is switched off and can take messages while they are driving, or allow a passenger to use the phone
  • Co-operate with monitoring, reporting and investigation procedures.

Source: RoSPA.