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Scottish traffic commissioner gets tough on lorry & coach driver phone use

Joan Aitken threatens to pull licences of firms that call drivers

Road transport firms that call their drivers while they're behind the wheel will face stiff penalties, says the traffic commissioner for Scotland.

Alastair Dalton of The Scotsman reports that Joan Aitken last week told a Cycling Scotland conference her department would look into the operating licences of coach and lorry companies if they were found to have called their drivers.

Vehicle tracking systems and other technology should make it unnecessary for firms to call drivers on their mobiles, she said.

She also said she had used inquiry hearings into phone/driving  offences to ask families not to call drivers while they were at work.

Drivers found to have been on their phones 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.”

She said that drivers of large vehicles had a huge responsibilty for safety.

“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.

“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.”

During last year's Road Safety Week, Brake called on employers to ban phone use (including hands-free) for employees driving on company time and tell staff to end calls with anyone who picks up while driving.

Reacting to Ms Aitken's comments James McLoughlin of Brake, said: “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.”

Research cited by Brake shows the harder you have to concentrate on a task, such as dealing with work-related calls, the slower your reactions. Talking on hands-free is therefore just as risky as hand-held, because it’s concentrating on the conversation that’s the main distraction.

Such distraction increases your risk of a crash in a similar way to drink-driving.

Neil Greig, the policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said of Ms Aitken's crackdown on phone use: “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.”

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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