The use of mobile phones while driving remains a serious concern – both for the wider society and fleet operators in particular.
Recent research conducted by TomTom Telematics discovered that more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of senior managers at UK businesses are worried their employees are using mobile phones to text or access the internet while driving for work.
At the same time, 33 per cent of these organisations still have not taken formal steps to prevent mobile phone use. Such steps could encompass a specific, written policy addressing mobile phone use or perhaps training and education around the issue.
Mobile phone use has been described by the World Health Organisation as a ‘serious and growing threat to road safety’, so there appears to be a pressing need for greater awareness and targeted action.
Not only does mobile phone negatively impact upon the employee’s safety, it puts the business at risk of failing to meet their legal obligation to manage the potential risks to employees’ health within the workplace. This is an obligation that exists even when staff are driving their own vehicles for work purposes.
How to take action
So where do employers start when addressing the issue?
A clear, firm policy – or a section within the existing ‘driving at work’ policy – on mobile phone usage represents an appropriate cornerstone and can be one of the most effective measures.
This policy should:
- Define use. Are mobile phones completely prohibited or are employees permitted to use them inside the vehicle when safely parked with the engine off? It is also important to be clear on whether hands-free use is allowed while driving, bearing in mind that studies have shown talking on a hands-free phone can be as distracting as talking on a hand-held mobile. It is also important to note that drivers can be prosecuted even when using their phone hands-free if they are deemed to be distracted and not in control of the vehicle.
- Determine exceptions. Are there any situations in which an employee is permitted to use their mobile phone while driving? Under law, it is permitted to use a handheld phone to call 999 or 112 in an emergency only if it is unsafe or impractical to stop but it may be helpful to define what constitutes an emergency.
- Outline consequences. It is important to develop a clear disciplinary process and ensure staff are aware of the consequences for breaching the rules outlined in the policy.
- Support and training. It can be helpful to inform staff who their point of contact is regarding the policy and outline any support or training that is available in relation to driving performance. For example, educational resources might be made available via a company intranet or workshops provided to get the message across in a more personal manner.
The importance of effective enforcement
Once a policy is in place, it is crucial to ensure this is properly enforced and all reasonable steps taken to monitor its effectiveness.
Mobile phone usage can be difficult to police, as it is hard to prove whether employees have been using their phones behind the wheel or not, but there are indicators that can help managers to identify when staff members are driving distracted.
Driver behaviour data provided by telematics technology can also play a role in a more proactive approach.
Not only do modern systems score drivers based on their overall performance but they also provide detailed information related to key areas of performance, helping managers to drill down to discover the root causes of problem trends.
For example, data on fuel efficiency, speeding and incidences of harsh steering and braking can be very useful when developing a detailed picture of performance. If necessary, it is also possible to interrogate the data further to discover when and where particular incidences of poor performance have occurred.
Although this data in itself does not indicate whether a driver was using their phone, it helps to provide clues about their general awareness and attentiveness while out on the road.
This information can then be used as the basis for training, consultation or one-on-one briefings with drivers to discover the reasons behind any particular performance issues and whether mobile phone use may be part of this.
Making adjustments to working roles
It is also important to find out why staff are using the phone while driving and whether current working practices are playing a part.
For example, although some employees may use the phone for personal reasons, others could be calling their manager, making contact with customers or picking up work emails.
In cases where employees are on the road all day and the phone is used as the primary method of communication with the office, it will be more difficult for them to avoid making or taking calls.
But it might be worth assessing existing working practices and perhaps even questioning whether office-based should call their colleagues when they are likely to be driving, even if they are using a hands-free device. Similarly, if employees who spend a large amount of time on the road are responding to emails while driving because they believe time pressures are forcing them to do so, it would be advisable to work with them to see how this burden could be relieved.
Digitised processes for job dispatch and the communication of vital job information can also help.
Instead of calling drivers, the office can send job details directly to in-vehicle driver terminals, with navigation automatically loaded when a job is accepted by the member of staff. It is also possible to send supporting material, such as product manuals or job descriptions, directly to these devices, helping to reduce the need for protracted conversations over the phone. Some systems can even be set to read out short text messages so that the driver can receive critical information without looking at the screen.
Drivers can also conduct a number of other tasks – such as the recording of mileage, vehicle checks or proof of delivery – via the device, meaning they no longer need to rely on the phone for the communication of important information.
Such adjustments will help to show employees that enforcement of the policy on mobile phone use is a two-way street and that they will receive the help they need to avoid infrigments.
For more guidance on how you can meet workplace safety requirements, check out our Duty of Care whitepaper. Or visit the TomTom Telematics website to learn more about how you can benefit from digitised work processes and driver behaviour monitoring.