We are now getting company vehicles with Bluetooth (hands free) technology provided as standard. Although our policy states the employees should not use their mobiles when driving, will we be liable to prosecution should an accident occur to a member of staff whilst using hands free in company time?
Hands-free kits are now widely available and the use of these kits remains legal under new regulation. However, employers should be aware that this does not mean that employers and employees are exempt from prosecution altogether if they use hands-free kits. Dangerous and careless driving can still be committed and dealt with under the Road Traffic Act 1988.
It is illegal to hold a hand held mobile phone or similar device while driving a motor vehicle, as well as using it for texting, internet access or video operation. Provided that a mobile phone can be operated without holding it, a hands-free kit with a mobile phone is not currently prohibited.
However, hands-free kits can be distracting and any employee risks prosecution for failing to have proper control of a vehicle if using a hands free kit when driving. If there is an incident, the use of a hands free kit with a mobile phone might result in charges of careless or dangerous driving.
The new regulations apply to “anyone who causes or permits any other person” to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. It is generally regarded that employers would not be liable just because they supplied a telephone or because they phoned an employee who was driving. However, employers would probably be liable if they required their employees to use a hand-held phone while driving and might also be liable if they failed to forbid employees to use such phones on company business.
Therefore, although it is thought that a hands-free ban would be unenforceable, employers should seriously consider if it is safest for them to ban employees using hands-free equipment too. Many employers have therefore decided to employ a total ban.