This month there has been a clampdown on drivers using mobile phones at the wheel – with the number of penalty points now doubling to six, as well as a potential £200 fine and even disqualification. The issue of drivers using phones is widespread and it is hoped the changes will deter people from taking the risk. But what happens if your employee is caught using a phone at the wheel?
According to Danny Clarke, operations director for employment law expert ELAS, companies need to be mindful of what guidance they give employees. “Do they allow staff to use Bluetooth to make calls? What if it’s not voice activated? There needs to be consideration on the use of mobile phones in principle but also how it’s applied in practice.”
Lorraine Stevens, a HR consultant for HR4Business, believes making expectations clear to well-meaning employees will ensure they don’t feel obligated to pick up a call.
She said: “Tell them, ‘we are happy for that call to go to voicemail and for you to call us back when you’re in a safe position to do so.’ They need to make sure they are clear about those messages.”
But it’s not just penalties for using phones at the wheel that are getting harsher, other changes include sentencing guidelines for those caught speeding – with fines increasing from 100% to 150% of a person’s salary on 24th April, 2017.
Although the driver would be penalised as an individual for such a crime, Danny said there was an onus on the employer to ensure employees had no reason to go too fast.
“Companies need to consider scheduling requirements so people aren’t speeding between appointments and taking those risks,” he said. “The company needs to have a capped policy on the number of hours people can drive continuously and have policies to say how that’s managed and maintained.”
If they don’t, the consequences could be devastating.
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Why the company could be on the line
Jon Gray, director at Henderson Insurance Brokers warns there is potential for employers to be charged with corporate manslaughter if in the worst case an employee kills someone while driving on company business due to careless driving or tiredness.
“Numerous convictions will result in increased insurance premiums or insurers not being prepared to cover certain drivers. Employers are vicariously liable and this is something they need to be aware of, he explained.”
Having a robust health and safety assessment in place will protect the well being of anyone in the business who will be driving – even if it is just popping to the shop for a pint of milk.
Changes to drug driving laws in recent years – to include penalties for people’s driving being impaired by legal or prescription drugs – make such assessments necessary. But other considerations often forgotten about include – is the employee using their own car? If so, is it insured for business? Is their working day factoring in travel time? Is the vehicle roadworthy and being maintained?
Lorraine said there was often ignorance within smaller businesses about their duty of care. “They often don’t appreciate the consequences,” she said. “I think a lot of the time their focus is more on their day-to-day operations.”
“A clear drivers’ policy, linked to the disciplinary process where applicable, should be standard,” she added.
According to Danny, driver training programmes are an effective way to educate employees about what’s expected: “Some insurers even have their own courses and these can lead to reductions in premiums for safe driving or further courses being offered for poorer drivers. They could refuse to cover a driver if they were involved in numerous accidents under a fleet policy.”
For those who break the rules, having penalty schemes in place – such as making them responsible for paying any excess on the company policy – could be an effective way of discouraging bad driving practices in the future.
Danny added: “When your staff are out on the road they are representing the business. They must think about their own well being as well as others around them.”