The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, recently announced changes to the existing legislation on mobile phone use while driving. These changes come into effect today (1 May 2014) with the implementation of the Road Traffic Act 2006 (Restriction on Use of Mobile Phones) Regulations 2014 (the "2014 Regulations").
Employers are advised to familiarise themselves with these changes and review existing policies or introduce new policies for employees on mobile phones where necessary.
Position Pre - 1 May 2014
It is currently an offence under the Road Traffic Act 2006 (the "2006 Act") to hold a mobile phone while driving in a public place. Holding a mobile phone means holding it by hand or “supporting or cradling it with another part of the body”.
More generally, it is also an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1961 (as amended) (the "1961 RTA") to drive without reasonable consideration and to drive carelessly. Careless driving means driving in a public place “without due care and attention”.
New Regulations – Text Messaging
The 2014 Regulations extend the provisions of the 2006 Act and make it an offence to send or read a text message from a mobile phone while driving in a public place. Further, the 2014 Regulations apply regardless of whether the driver is holding the phone or the phone is in a hands-free holder.
Under the 2014 Regulations, a text message includes SMS and MMS messages as well as emails. “Read a text message” includes “…access or open a text message…so that it can be read”. Sending a text message, on the other hand, includes composing and typing a message. It is permissible to use voice activation software to both read and send a text.
The 2014 Regulations do not make it an offence to speak via a hands-free device, by hands-free radio, or to touch a button on a hands-free device in order to answer a phone call. However, caution is needed while undertaking these activities as depending on the circumstances, technically such actions may constitute careless driving.
From 1 May 2014, offences under the 2014 Regulations will incur the penalties set out in the 1961 RTA. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has indicated that in the longer term, offences under the 2014 Regulations will be brought within the fixed charge offence / penalty point regime.
Recommended Action for Employers
It is recommended that employers review existing policies or introduce new policies for employees on mobile phone use while driving to reflect these changes in the law. This should be done to ensure that employees are aware of the current legal provisions and so that they can alter their current driving habits in relation to mobile phone use accordingly.