Is the use of hands-free mobile phones legal and safe?

Business owners and company directors should be asking themselves this week if they need to revisit their company mobile phone use policy. At Warwick Crown Court last week, a jury found Lisa Marie Howden, Director and Head of Sales at a Business Consultancy company, guilty of careless driving when she lost control of her vehicle while using a hands-free mobile phone. Lisa’s loss of control lead to the death of a Mrs Patricia Frostick who was driving an oncoming car on the A429.

Ms Howden was originally charged with Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and whilst she was found not guilty of that charge, the jury agreed that using her phone for 35 minutes prior to the accident did justify the lesser charge of Careless Driving. Had her accident happened after 18 August 2008 she could have been found guilty of the new charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving and faced a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

Research over a number of years by leading academics at the University of Utah has found that mobile phone conversations are extremely detrimental to driving concentration and that using a hands-free phone is no safer than using a handheld one. As Professor Strayer, who has led the research says “...it is not that your hands are not the wheel, it is that your mind is not on the road”.

The research and this recent sad case both suggest that there is a need for a review of the law on the use of hands-free mobiles. David Heming, Head of Dispute Resolution at hc solicitors, commented “In the meantime, employers should carry out an urgent review of their Company Safe Driving Policies and decide whether they need to introduce a blanket ban on the use of hands-free mobiles while driving. Otherwise, if a similar case occurred to one of their employees, they might find themselves liable to prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act or the Health and Safety at Work Act.

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.