• International Workplace
  • 28 March 2017

‘Hands-free’ driving – are your employees eating at the wheel?

Recent prosecutions have highlighted the importance of going ‘hands-free’ whilst driving, and it’s vital that employees who drive for work purposes are advised of the company’s stance on these issues and the health and safety precautions they should be taking.

Mobile phones have been at the centre of recent cases, but research indicates that companies should be banning anything that distracts the driver’s attention or prevents them from having full control of the vehicle.

Road safety organisation, GEM Motoring Assist, is campaigning to eliminate eating or drinking while at the wheel. This distraction is estimated to double a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash, according to research from Brunel University, and drivers could be prosecuted for not being in proper control of the vehicle or careless driving.

GEM Road Safety Officer, Neil Worth, commented:

“The Highway Code tells us that we must avoid distractions such as eating and drinking when we are driving. That’s because anything that takes our attention away from the driving task will increase our risk of collision. However, too many drivers don’t see it as a problem to unwrap a pasty, sip a scalding hot coffee or glug from a large juice carton on a journey.”

“Driving is a complex enough task already. So, trying to do anything else at the same time just makes the journey riskier because we’re not fully focused on driving. If something then goes wrong, we’re likely to react more slowly because our attention is elsewhere…

“Good, experienced drivers accept that eating and drinking at the wheel are dangerous, so they won’t allow these distractions to compromise safety.”

GEM suggests drivers can work around the need to eat or drink whilst driving by:

  • planning journeys so that there’s time for snack and drinks breaks built in; and
  • stopping somewhere safe, such as a proper parking area or motorway service station.

GEM is also campaigning for the UK driving test to be replaced by a graduated driver test, to ensure safer driving by new drivers and in the long-term. Neil Worth comments that graduated driver licensing (GDL) adds that all-important intermediate element between learner and full licence holder, and allows new drivers to build up their skills and experience over a period of time, using clearly-marked stages. He also says.

“Where versions of GDL are already in place, the reduction in young and novice driver collisions has been remarkable,”

A GDL system would include:

  • a minimum learning period of 12 months before taking a practical test;
  • drivers should hold ‘novice’ status for two years after passing the test;
  • a ban on novice drivers carrying passengers under the age of 25;
  • a night-time driving curfew, unless driving to or from work; and
  • automatic disqualification for any driving offence.

Neil Worth concludes:

“GEM members are holding the Government to account for failing to prioritise young driver safety, and for wasting lives and money. We believe that GDL, if it goes hand in hand with improvements to public transport across the country, could form a key part of a safer and more sustainable transport future for everyone.”