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EXCLUSIVE: Phone-drive firms face police visit

Date: 05 July 2006

London has become the test bed for a pioneering pilot scheme set to have huge implications for fleet managers nationwide.

One of the most common offences facing the Metropolitan Police is mobile phone use in commercial vehicles.

In the past, drivers caught phone-driving, would be fined, but now the capital's police are taking a far more innovative approach.

Uniformed police officers visit the driver's company headquarters to meet with the directors to ensure risk is correctly managed.

"Poor behaviour by drivers is a performance indicator of a companies approach to road risk, if a particular company's drivers are constantly breaking the law, we visit to see what's happening", said Ian Brooks from the Met Police, one of the architects of the scheme.

In the case of phones, this could include the start of a company car-wide ban of mobile use.

Brooks believes the subtleties of having a uniformed police officer visit the premises are not lost on a PR-savvy managing director.

"Having a uniformed police constable around the office does not look good for business.

"The scheme is designed to make companies feel uncomfortable when not fulfiling their responsibilities, but we will also be there to offer support and guidance in putting a policy in place."

If bad PR doesn't worry a business with little regard for road risk, delegated powers could. The police can issue the firm with an improvement notice - non-compliance, or improvements that don't measure up could leave the company facing financial prosecution.

Funded by Transport for London Freight, the new scheme specifically targets van and HGV drivers flouting the law, but if successful could become a valuable tool to improve road safety for all business road users.

Rolling the pilot out nationally could also solve help the Department for Transport's inability to force occupational risk reduction on business with company drivers. Currently the government body is virtually powerless to act to ensure companies comply with the law.

Instead, they are in the middle of trialling a 'carrot', to convince fleets the financial savings of managing risk. A CD-rom sent out to business provides tips, good practise and even ready-made policy documents. Next, the Think! road safety campaign will be used to publicise the importance of a safe working environment for company drivers, but so far the DfT has lacked a 'stick'.

This police action could be that 'stick', especially since small businesses, 99% of all firms within the UK, are difficult to reach and less easy to demonstrate savings.

"We are not out to target businesses, only to encourage companies to operate responsibly and prevent illegal carriers operating with an unfair advantage", said Brooks, adding the Met has in the past handed out a five-day license suspension instead of a fine for mobile phone use. A powerful message to both company and driver.

Adding its seal of approval has been the Health and Safety Executive, which has been involved from the outset offering the Met and TfL guidance and support. "If successful it could roll out to company cars. Businesses will begin to sit up and take notice, people will get an appetite for engagement", said Brooks.