Select Committee on Transport Tenth Report

8  Other impairment

170. Impairment for reasons other than alcohol and drug consumption has proven difficult to tackle through technological enforcement. Mobile telephone use and fatigued drivers are good illustrations of significant road safety risks which require more urgent attention and inventive approaches to explore whether technology can be used to help increase the level of enforcement.

Mobile telephone use

171. It became an offence to drive while using a hand-held mobile telephone, or similar device, on 1 December 2003. Nonetheless, non-compliance is common. From a safety perspective, it is imperative that people do not drive while using a mobile telephone: drivers engaged in a mobile telephone conversation are four times more likely to crash than other drivers.[282]

172. Although it equally distracting for a driver to be involved in a telephone conversation using a hands-free kit as a handheld telephone, the legislation covered only hand-held devices in the offence, as the police argued it would be easier to detect and therefore enforce.[283] In 2004 there were 73,976 fixed penalty notices issued for driving while using a hand-held mobile telephone. Anecdotally, the prevalence of this offence is much higher.[284] A recent survey by TRL for the DfT found that 1.7% of car drivers and 2.5% of van and lorry drivers were using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving.[285] RoadPeace recommended that where a fatal crash has occurred, the police should check mobile telephone records as standard procedure to see if a mobile telephone had been used prior to the collision taking place.[286] This would assist crash investigators and would also provide a more reliable indicator of the extent of the problem.

173. It is a matter of concern that more attention has not been given to enforcing the legislation. Mr Skelton, of ITS UK, described a diminishing enforcement effort and deterrent effect: "with the mobile phone […] when the legislation was first introduced there was a very high compliance because the penalties were recognised to be quite stringent. However, I think as time has passed the potential has slipped and has lapsed [...]"[287] The AA Motoring Trust supported this view: "The new car telephone laws seem to be ignored by many drivers probably because they feel there is little chance of being apprehended."[288]

174. Reports in the press have indicated that camera technology is available which can detect hand-held mobile telephone use and which can be used in automated enforcement. Evidence we received from witnesses to this inquiry, however, indicated that such technology is not yet available to the police.[289] Asked to comment on the potential use of ANPR technology in the enforcement of mobile telephone and seatbelt wearing offences the ACPO Head of Road Policing, Mr Hughes, told us: "My understanding of the specific technology that has been mentioned is that it only works under fairly restrictive conditions. We should be very wary of believing IT salesmen […]"[290] Technology for automated enforcement of the legislation may not exist, but the road safety charity Brake advised that a device already exists which can prevent a driver using a mobile telephone unless the handbrake is on.[291]

175. Driving while using a mobile telephone is extremely impairing—drivers holding a mobile telephone conversation are four times more likely to be involved in a crash. Anyone who observes traffic for even a short period of time is likely to see this law being flouted with impunity—it is disappointing that there have not been more high profile enforcement operations to support the change in legislation. Failure to enforce the new law risks bringing traffic law enforcement into disrepute. Given the significantly increased risk of collision, the police should undertake regular and highly visible enforcement action, supported by targeted advertising campaigns.

176. Collision data should include details of whether a driver was using a mobile telephone at the time of the incident, and certainly in all fatal crashes the collision investigator should check telephone records to identify whether the driver was using a telephone at the time of the crash. The fact that it is currently difficult (or impossible) to detect mobile telephone use through technology should not mean that this law is neglected. In addition, the Home Office should support research into new technologies which detect telephone use or prevent people from driving while using them.


177. According to the Government's road safety strategy, fatigue may be the principal factor in 10% of all car crashes—and more on the motorways and in the early hours. Research puts the figure at 16-20%.[292] It is estimated that 40% of all sleep-related collisions are work-related.[293] The actual number of incidents of fatigue-related crashes is hard to identify because people are reluctant to admit to falling asleep at the wheel, and after falling asleep many drivers do not recollect having felt sleepy beforehand.

178. The Home Office Scientific Development Branch is currently developing a device for measuring all types of driver impairment, which would include fatigue effects. The device, known as the Roadside Impairment Test Apparatus carries out six tests of abilities needed for driving: tracking ability; short-term memory; gap estimation, information processing, sustained attention and choice.[294] The Home Office stated that analysis of data from this study should be completed by autumn 2006. It told us:

Decisions as to the future direction of work will be taken at this stage. If there appears to have been sufficient discrimination shown between the impaired and unimpaired subjects, there will be a need for wider ranging studies, field trials and evaluation over an extended period. It is likely therefore to be some years before a device might be available for operational use.[295]

179. We welcome the research being undertaken by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch into a device which would help police officers reliably detect impairment in drivers. If such a device is shown to be effective, the Home Office should ensure that police officers have access to this equipment as soon as possible, and that they are adequately resourced and trained to make best use of it.


180. Fatigue is a particular risk for long-distance and haulage drivers. The Department for Transport's executive agency, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) carries out enforcement checks on commercial drivers and vehicles. The 2003-04 compliance checks identified that more than 20% of trucks and drivers had paperwork offences: the biggest set of breaches was drivers' hours rules.[296] These offences endanger all road users. The Freight Transport Association indicated that foreign-registered heavy goods vehicle operators posed particular problems on the UK road network.[297] In 2005, nine per cent of all heavy goods vehicles involved in collisions in Great Britain were foreign-registered.[298] The Freight Transport Association stated:

there are a growing number of foreign operators on the roads that do not operate to the same standards as UK operators, particularly regarding drivers' hours infringements and overloading offences […] There needs to be increased exchanges of information across all European states to ensure that the safety levels on UK roads are maintained.[299]

181. The Department for Transport told us that more resources had been put into commercial vehicle compliance checks and that between 2004 and 2005 checks and prohibitions in relation to traffic issues (operator licences, tachographs, driver's hours and such) increased by 16.4% and 53.7% respectively. It stated: "the power to stop has enabled VOSA to increase roadside check volumes, and vehicle prohibitions for serious defects. There has also been increased deterrence, enhanced by the presence of a fleet of liveried vehicles and uniformed Examiners."[300] Nevertheless, the Freight Transport Association and Brake both indicated that the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency needed more enforcement resources to better address these safety concerns.[301] Ms Williams, of Brake, stated:

there has been a slight increase in the last decade in the number of traffic examiners who do enforcement for drivers' hours rules, but only by 36 officers for the whole of the UK. It is my understanding from liaising with VOSA and other agencies that this is a major area of concern.[302]

182. In addition, we are concerned by the indication from the relevant trade unions that the Department is considering 'outsourcing' the enforcement work of VOSA.[303] It strikes us that this proposal is fraught with potential difficulties. It could in effect introduce a private police force onto the UK's roads which would be a fundamental departure from the existing picture of law enforcement. The proposals would require very careful parliamentary scrutiny.

183. Commercial vehicle and driver compliance checks should be properly resourced. The Department for Transport and Vehicle and Operator Services Agency should work together to enforce vehicle safety standards on all vehicles, including foreign-registered Heavy Goods Vehicles. We welcome measures in the Road Safety Bill that toughen the regime for foreign-registered vehicles.

282   Direct Line TRL Report. RoSPA 2002, Brake Policy Sheet 2002, the Stewart Report 2000 Back

283   Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones Report of the Group (The Stewart Report) 2000 Back

284   Home Office Offences Relating to Motor Vehicles England and Wales 2004 Supplementary Tables Back

285   DfT commissioned TRL to conduct periodic surveys into the use of mobile phones by drivers of cars and other motor vehicles (vans and lorries). The most recent survey was done in April 2006 at 30 sites representing a full range of road types and conditions. Based on a sample of over 80,000 cars and 20,000 other vehicles it was observed that 1.7% of car drivers were using a hand-held mobile phone in April 2006, compared to 1.1% in September 2004; for van and lorry drivers this was 2.5%, up from 2.2% in September 2004. (TRL LF2100 Mobile Phone Use by Drivers, 2004-06 August 2006) Back

286   Ev 42 Back

287   Q199 Back

288   Ev 139 Back

289   Qq 42, 145, 278 Back

290   Q42 Back

291   Ev 44 Back

292   Horne and Reyner (1995) Sleep Related Vehicle Accidents. British Medical Journal, 310 Back

293   Ev 31 Back

294   Ev 150 Back

295   Ibid Back

296   Q106 Back

297   Ev 31 Back

298   DfT Road Casualties Great Britain 2006, page 37 Back

299   Ev 31 Back

300   Ev 101 Back

301   Ev 31, 22, Qq 94, 106  Back

302   Q106 Back

303   Letter from PCS, Prospect and Amicus dated 31 August 2006 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 31 October 2006