Use of mobile phones whilst driving: Employer’s liability

From 1 December 2003 it will be unlawful to use a hand-held mobile phone or similar device whilst driving. The penalty will be £30 or up to £1,000 on conviction. The legislation which creates this offence is the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No.4) Regulations 2003. Surprisingly, these regulations have an impact on employers.

Important aspects of the regulations are:

  • Devices similar to hand-held mobile phones are ones which perform “an interactive communication function by transmitting and receiving data.”
  • No offence will be committed if the driver is making an emergency call or acting in response to a genuine emergency, or if it is unsafe or impractical for the driver to stop and make the call.
  • Provided that a phone can be operated without holding it, then hands-free equipment is not prohibited, although if using it interferes with proper control of a vehicle drivers may still be at risk under separate legislation.
  • The regulations apply to the drivers of all motor vehicles on the road, including cars, motorcycles, good vehicles, buses, coaches and taxis.

Potential liability for employers arises from the regulations applying to anyone who causes or permits a person to use a mobile whilst driving. The Department of Transport does not consider that employers will be liable simply because they have supplied an employee with a phone. However, liability may arise where the employer requires an employee to use a hand-held phone whilst driving. Employers are also likely to be liable if they fail to warn employees against using mobiles while driving on company business or make a call to an employee’s mobile when they have reasonable cause to suspect that the employee may be driving.

Employers whose employees have company mobiles would do well to revise disciplinary and other relevant policies so that they expressly forbid unlawful use.

The full text of the regulations can be found here.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.