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German motoring organisation ADAC found in a recent study that penalties for illegal phone use in Britain are now the second-highest in Europe, behind the Netherlands. 

From March 1st 2017, penalties for illegal mobile phone use were doubled. Motorists caught using a mobile handset while behind the wheel are now automatically issued with a £200 fine and six points on their licence. In the Netherlands, fines for the same offence are only slightly higher at €230 (£202). Following the introduction of the harsher penalties last year, mobile phone use while driving appears to have declined. According to the AA, 39,000 fixed penalty notices were issued to motorists for illegal mobile phone use between March and December 2017 – down from 74,000 during the same period in 2016, a decline of almost half (47 per cent).

A 2015 survey from road safety charity Brake had indicated that younger drivers, in particular, were most likely to use their mobile phones while on the road. But while these tougher penalties already seem to be having a positive effect on illegal mobile phone use, it isn’t the be all and end all. As the statistics bear out, thousands of motorists are still using their handsets while driving. Clearly, this remains an important issue for fleets to deal with. The use of telematics systems is helping to enhance driver safety by automating away the need for some communication between drivers and their base. 

What’s the scale of the problem?

Other research, however, has indicated that millions of drivers are still continuing to use their mobile handset while driving despite the tough penalties they face if caught. A survey carried out by The Car People in April found that 49 per cent of motorists polled admitted to being distracted because of mobile phones while driving. In particular, getting a phone call distracted 31 per cent and new message notifications distracted 20 per cent. Among younger drivers (aged 18 to 24), 26 per cent said they had changed music using their phone while behind the wheel.

A poll from the US, meanwhile, suggested that many people felt pressured into checking their mobiles while driving because they didn’t want to upset their employer. Some 43 per cent of those who took part in the survey had been in touch with work while driving, 54 per cent of whom were aged between 18 and 44. Even more alarmingly, a quarter of respondents said their employer had contacted them by phone or text despite knowing that they were driving at the time.

Telematics, smartphone use, and road safety

For a number of years, fleets have been taking proactive steps to combat the issue of mobile phone use while driving – and they’ve done this, in part, through the use of telematics systems. Fleet operators are using the data derived from telematics to help them build a comprehensive picture of the way their drivers conduct themselves when they’re on the road, allowing them to highlight potential road safety risks and take action to deal with them. This includes assembling risk profiles of individual drivers and individually-tailored training programmes.

But in addition to this, telematics is helping to cut down on smartphone usage by streamlining the way drivers and their managers communicate. For example, fleet tracking systems provide managers with real-time insights which minimise the need for person-to-person communication. Managers can keep tabs on vehicle location, and they can also re-route vehicles where necessary using the telematics system. This way, they don’t need to contact drivers by phone – which is one less distraction for them when they’re driving. There are also telematics apps which track mobile phone use, so that managers can deduce which drivers are using their handset while behind the wheel. In-cab cameras are also increasingly commonplace, and this is another disincentive to using smartphones while driving.

Also crucial to reducing mobile phone use when driving – and raising road safety standards generally – is having robust company policy measures in place. Fleets must adopt a zero-tolerance stance on smartphone use while driving, and ensure that this is both communicated effectively and applied to all levels of the workforce (including management). Furthermore, the dangers of mobile phone use on the road must also be included as a central aspect of driver safety training.

It might seem obvious to most of us, but it’s so easy to be distracted by a phone call, text message or other notification that it really does bear repeating – using a mobile phone while driving is a huge safety risk. Telematics is here to help, and that’s precisely what it is doing, boosting road safety standards for fleet drivers and other road users alike.
 

Rebecca Hall is a Senior Marketing Executive at Teletrac Navman.

Working in the telematics industry for 5 years, Becky is responsible for co-ordinating and launching multi-channel campaigns at Teletrac Navman UK. Particular areas of interest include, road safety, fuel savings and viewpoints from commercial drivers.