LORRY and coach firms who risk causing “catastrophic” crashes by phoning their drivers at the wheel will be investigated, the industry’s regulator has told The Scotsman.
Joan Aitken, the traffic commissioner for Scotland, vowed to look into such companies’ operating licences if their drivers were found to have received such calls.
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She said technology such as vehicle tracking systems should avert the need for drivers to be phoned on their mobiles while on the road.
Ms Aitken said she also used inquiry hearings into such offences to appeal directly to the relatives of drivers not to call them at work.
She said police reported professional drivers to her who had been caught on the phone.
They were likely to have their operating licences suspended for up to six months.
She said: “If the call came from their operator, I will look at the firm’s operating licence if I do not believe there has been safe operating and ask what their policies are.”
Ms Aitken told a Cycling Scotland conference last week that bus, coach and lorry drivers had a huge responsibilty for safety.
She said: “Professional drivers can be the kings and queens of the road, but if they are distracted the weight of their vehicle on cyclists, pedestrians, including children, can be catastrophic.”
Incidents have included a couple being killed last year on the M62 near Huddersfield by a lorry driver who is thought to have lost control while texting.
Ms Aitken said many cases she dealt with included mobile phone offences, including texting.
She said: “The thrust of the message to employers is - organise a safe system of work and do not pile on the pressure on drivers to pick up on calls when it is not safe to do so.”
Road safety and motoring groups expressed delight at the traffic commissioner’s uncompromising stance.
James McLoughlin, spokesman for UK road safety charity Brake, said: “We wholeheartedly support Commissioner Aitken’s approach.
“As well as calling on drivers to never answer the phone at the wheel, we ask everyone to hang up immediately if a driver answers the phone to them.
“Companies that employ drivers can fulfil their safety obligations to staff and the public by instructing drivers to switch off their phones and put them out of reach.”
Sandy Allan, road safety manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Scotland, said: “Driver distraction through the use of any hand- held device is a significant issue.”
The former senior Lothian and Borders Police traffic officer said: “No longer is this a case of making or answering a phone call. More and more we hear of drivers texting, using Facebook, taking selfies, and so on.
“Depending on the speed of a vehicle, a significant distance can be travelled during which anything could happen.
“By using such a device you are posing a significant danger to other road users. This is aggravated in my mind if you are in charge of a heavy goods vehicle or a coach full of people at the time.”
Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “This is a great idea.
“All too often, drivers feel forced to make and take calls by their employers.
“The commissioner’s initiative means senior managers and directors will have take responsibility for their companies actions.
“The threat of loss of business is a real one that goes well beyond the traditional remedies if fines and [driving licence penalty] points.”
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