Mobile phones - Employers obligations

03 Nov 2003

Laura O'Connor, November 2003

From 1 December 2003 it will be illegal to use a handheld mobile phone whilst driving. The penalty for anyone doing so will be a fine of between £30 to £1,000 as well as 3 penalty points on the offender's driving licence.

Employers whose employees use a mobile phone for work related reasons whilst out on the road will be affected directly by this new legislation. At the moment, drivers who "fail to keep proper control of the vehicle" whilst using their mobile can already face charges. However, the new provision that is to be added to the existing Road Vehicles (Instruction and Use) Regulations 1986 suggests that employers should seriously consider changes to their car and mobile phone policies in the workplace.

Hands free phones

Use of hands free phones will continue to be allowed, although during the consultation for this new legislation, it has been recognised that these can still distract drivers. Employers have a duty to provide employees with a safe working environment and take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of staff and those with whom their staff come into contact. Unless employers now provide clear guidelines on the use of phones when driving, their liability for any accidents or offences will naturally increase.

Practical steps to encourage compliance by employees

Whilst there are no guarantees that employers can escape liability for employees who cause an accident whilst using a hand held mobile, there are a number of practical steps that can be taken to encourage employees to comply with the new laws. They include:

  • A specific ban on the use of hand held mobiles whilst driving a vehicle. Employers should highlight that there is far more at stake for the employee than just committing an offence by using a hand held mobile - they may lose their job as well.
  • Drafting a clause into employment contracts that expressly states that upon committing an offence an employee will be subject to the disciplinary procedure.
  • Clearly defining for employees what comprises a hand held phone. Hands free phones are allowed under the new legislation but some models of phones may blur the lines, for example those with microphone leads or loudspeaker settings.

Employers responsibilities

Employers will need to keep a close eye on the development of the new regulations. When providing their employees with mobile phones that are to be used whilst driving they shall need to ensure that the handset falls within those permitted by the legislation.

The inclusion of specific clauses in contracts relating to the use of mobile phones is, of course, part of an increasing trend towards increased health and safety in the workplace - particularly for work related driving. Interestingly, we could well see hands free mobiles included in future legislation, given the recognition during the consultation period of the potential distraction they can cause.

In the meantime however, employers would be well advised to make their policies clear and to encourage 100% compliance.

For further information, please contact Richard Thompson on +44 (0)20 7468 7373

Additional information