Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Police Chief Calls for Road Haulage Drivers Dismissals for Phone Abuse

'Too Many Dying on Our Roads' says Chief Constable
Shipping News Feature

UK – You can often tell public figures who have been recently appointed by the amount of self-publicity they generate before the work load takes up the slack and their appearances diminish. Chief Constable of Essex Stephen Kavanagh took up his post in May and has been setting out his stall ever since but his latest pronouncement is likely to meet with a mixed reaction, despite containing more than an element of common sense. The officer has stated that any professional lorry or public service vehicle driver caught using a mobile phone should be dismissed by his employers, a statement which has received qualified agreement from road haulage and safety groups.

Mr Kavanagh himself pulled over a truck driver recently for using his phone whilst driving and his stance is, somewhat understandably, unequivocal. He commented:

"We need to normalise this as a stupid thing to do because too many people are dying on our roads. We've got to make sure professional drivers understand they will be held to account not just by the police but by their employers. We need to see professional bodies saying if you get caught using your mobile telephone or texting while you're driving you will be sacked.”

The idea certainly will appeal to many, but it is hard to envisage how such a plan could be adopted, except on a voluntary basis. At the moment many drivers are already explicitly excluded from using mobile phones whilst driving and many companies supply hands free kits. Failure to obey company rules for committing such an offence could result in dismissal. To ensure every commercial driver was sacked would surely involve a change in the law and that simply isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Even if dismissal did become mandatory how would that affect a driver’s future employment prospects or, unlike something such as drink driving, would it mean a life sentence from behind the wheel?

In the US, Ray LaHood conducted a continual campaign against texting whilst driving, recognising the practice as being far more dangerous than telephoning, whilst decrying the use of anything but hands free technology in any circumstances. Through continual use of horrifying stories and images his campaign worked its way into the US truck driving community’s consciousness without the need for legislation.

The BBC reported that the Road Haulage Association supported Mr Kavanagh’s idea but said ‘it should apply to all road users’, somewhat confusing as you cannot dismiss a private motorist and Mr Kavanagh was not calling for a change in the actual penalty (currently a £60 fine and three penalty points). Spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Kevin Clinton, took a more measured stance, saying:

"Using a phone behind the wheel should be investigated and dealt with as misconduct according to the company's disciplinary procedures. However, RoSPA would not say that an employee should be automatically sacked. The result of the disciplinary should depend on the circumstances, such as whether it is the first offence or a repeat offence, and whether the driver has been put under pressure to use the phone by the company."

Footnote: Apparently the people of Essex aren’t too interested in the views of their new police chief. A well-publicised meeting two days ago held in Chelmsford, and organised by the Essex police commissioner Nick Alston, intended to give the public the chance to question Mr Kavanagh, saw only six people attend.

Photo: Chief Constable of Essex Stephen Kavanagh