27 February will see new phone-drivng laws come in. Andy Leech believes that although fleet policies banning phone-driving are in place, businesses must still do more

Last week I was driving down a busy A-road and noted at one point that four out of 10 or so drivers who passed oncoming were using a handheld phone. At least one appeared to be texting. In the fleet industry, we are well enough informed to know that this is a scandal. Holding a phone while driving is every bit as dangerous as drink-driving.

For that reason and because the existing law is not being observed to almost any degree at all, we should welcome the Government’s move this week to put in place harsher phone-driving penalties. The truth is that most fleets have specifically told their drivers not to dial and drive. Many have even decided that hands-free kits are not acceptable, citing evidence that shows the distraction factor is enormously high.

But the truth is that while many company car drivers, hopefully the majority, are observing the law, most of us know of instances where it is still happening. Fleet drivers – who quite often spend long and lonely motorway hours in the car – see the phone as their lifeline to the outside world and they are finding the habit hard to kick.

A big part of the problem is that proving phone use is difficult. Unless a senior manager sees a driver on the phone and feels inclined to report the matter, then whatever disciplinary procedures you have in place are worthless. The only time you’re likely to find out is if a driver has an accident while on the phone and the police prosecute.

But there are things you can do. A shift in company culture is the first thing needed. If directors and senior managers use their phones on the move, everyone else will too – so we should try and stop the top people making or receiving calls while behind the wheel.

We should also convince drivers that they are likely to get caught and face disciplinary action. Doing spot checks that crosscheck mobile phone bills, business miles records and diaries is the easiest way to do this – not a system that is watertight but one that certainly makes drivers aware of exactly how seriously you are taking the issue.

This is something we need to stamp out and, if we don’t, we are likely to see even stronger penalties from the Government in the future. Fleets should be doing everything they can right now.

Andy Leech is the boss at CFC.