Nick Jones, the traffic commissioner (TC) for the West Midlands and Wales, told the Freight Transport Association’s Transport Manager’s conference in Chepstow that he planned to do more about drivers and mobile phones, by issuing a code of conduct to cover their use in trucks and buses.
His announcement came as forthcoming new penalty rules were revealed for the offence of using a handheld phone while driving.
The new rules will see offending car drivers get six points on their licences and face a £200 fine, with newly-qualified drivers being made to retake their tests after they are caught the first time.
More experienced drivers could face a court appearance on their second offence, where they would face fines of up to £1,000 and a minimum six-month driving ban. The current punishment is £100 and three points, and the tougher penalties are expected to come into force in the first half of next year.
Truck and bus drivers caught using handheld mobiles currently face a professional conduct hearing before a TC after their conviction.
TC Jones said: “Mobiles distract drivers and are becoming an increasingly frequent factor in cases of causing death by dangerous driving.
“I have to deal with cases where professional drivers are leaving prison and want to resume professional driving. The reason they were sent to prison is they killed someone because they were texting while driving.
“Mobile phone use while driving is part of the culture in white van man world.
“And to managers here today, yes, I’ve got a concern if you ring drivers and expect them to answer the phone while they are driving.”
He explained that drivers before him on conduct cases for using the phone while driving would be asked if they were expected to take calls from the office while at the wheel.
“I will take proportionate but firm action against the employer in those cases,” he warned.
Questioned by Transport Operator on his attitude to the use of hands-free phones in trucks, TC Jones responded with caution.
“If Parliament has said that it is legal to use a hands-free phone then it’s not for me to stop it. However, if you are an employer, my advice is don’t do it!”
His advice conflicts with the attitude of the Road Haulage Association, which believes hands-free phones are in a quite different category from handheld mobile devices and supports their limited use.
“Hands-free mobiles are used in lorries as a business tool, bringing economic and environmental benefits, including reducing the mileage travelled by vehicles through improving efficiency,” said RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.
However, the association fully supported increased penalties for all drivers using handheld phones while driving and also supports calls for improved enforcement.
“As far as the road haulage sector is concerned, the RHA is urging employers and drivers to help to eradicate the practice from the industry once and for all,” Mr Burnett said.
“There is abundant evidence that use of handheld mobiles – as opposed to hands-free devices – is a major cause of road accidents. The two issues should not be confused. The use of handheld mobiles is the safety risk that has to be addressed, through much stronger deterrents.”
In addition, the RHA fully backs the additional sanctions taken by TCs against professional drivers convicted of using handheld mobiles while driving.