From March 25, it will become illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving under virtually any circumstance, following amendments to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations.
Previously, the legislation around the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving was open to interpretation and had been difficult for the police to enforce.
The tightening of the law has been welcomed by the road safety community, with research showing that a driver is four times more likely to be involved in a crash if they use a phone at the wheel.
The stricter regulations mean drivers are now more likely to receive a £200 fine and six penalty points on their licence, if they are caught using a hand-held phone at the wheel.
This means an instant ban for HGV drivers or for motorists that passed their test in the last two years. HGV drivers also face a maximum fine of £2,500 for a mobile phone offence. But technology developer and road safety advocate, Nick Evans, believes that the new law creates an even bigger concern for employers.
Mr Evans, from Doncaster, became passionate about improving safety on the roads after his son James was injured in a serious collision on a motorway eight years ago, aged 10, involving a lorry.
Since then, he has worked hard to develop DriveCommander, an app designed to disable or partially restrict the use of mobile phones while a vehicle is in use.
The technology, which has been successfully used on National Express trains in Germany since 2019, can disable a phone completely, except for emergency calls, or it can stop all but a few essential incoming calls.
As well as peace of mind, companies that use the technology are also likely to see a considerable reduction in insurance premiums.
He said: ‘So much more can and should be done by companies to actively reduce the risks posed by mobile phones while driving. Everybody has a mobile phone these days, and whether hand-held or hands-free, they create a huge distraction for drivers.’
In 2020 alone, 17 people were killed, 114 people were seriously injured and 385 were slightly injured on the UK’s roads in crashes involving drivers distracted by mobile phones.
But apart from the human cost, in the event of a collision employers also face a range of other serious implications. These include driver absence due to injury or loss of licence, damage to vehicles, reduction in service due to vehicles being out of action and damage to their reputation.
International transportation conglomerate, FedEx, became the centre of attention in 2017 when one of its lorry drivers, David Wagstaff, was involved in a collision on the M1 in Buckinghamshire, in which eight people were killed and four were seriously injured.
Mr Wagstaff, who had his vehicle on cruise control and was chatting on his hands-free phone when his lorry ploughed into the back of a minibus, was jailed for three years and four months in 2018 for causing the collision.
Upon sentencing at Aylesbury Crown Court, Judge Sheridan acknowledged that Wagstaff had not broken the law, as he had been using a hand-free device, but said: ‘It would be wrong of me not to take the opportunity to urge the public to download the app that deactivates your phone when you are on the move.’
Another lorry driver involved in the collision, from another firm, who was twice the legal alcohol limit, was jailed for 14 years.
Nick Simmons, CEO of RoadPeace, the road victims’ charity, said: ‘RoadPeace members are only too aware of the devastating consequences that can occur when mobile phones are used whilst driving and strongly support the new law.
‘Effective enforcement will be an issue with limited police resources, so we welcome the Drive Commander App as it will help fleet managers and drivers comply.’
Mr Evans’ son James, now 18, said: ‘After I was involved in the crash it took many years before I was able to travel on the motorways again, and even now, as a newly qualified driver, I am still anxious about it.
‘The incident inspired my Dad to bring his idea into reality, to improve one of the problem areas of distracted driving, and I’m very proud of his determination to help save lives.’