THIS is what the law says about having long conference calls in your CAR - and the guidance might come as a shock.
While it’s not illegal to make conference calls using a hands-free kit, the habit could be increasing your risk of having an accident, according to experts. And you could still face prosecution if you’re distracted enough that your ‘standard of driving’ takes a nose-dive.
Group conference conversations have become the norm for many Brit workers during the Covid-19 shut-down, as virtual chats replace face-to-face meetings.
As some UK employees start trickling back into workplaces, and as Prime Minister Boris Johnson eases restrictions on how far people in England can drive, many of those newly-scheduled conference calls might end up being done on the move from behind the wheel.
According to the law, it’s not illegal to take part in conference calls in your car providing you’re doing so hands-free.
But James O’Malley, company director of leading UK leasing firm Select Car Leasing, is urging motorists to think twice before taking such meetings on the road.
He warns: “There’s nothing in the law that distinguishes regular mobile phone calls from group conference calls. As long as you can operate your phone without physically touching it, it’s not illegal to make calls using it.
“Similarly, there’s also nothing in the law that stipulates how long you can be on a phone call for.
“But it’s our fear that the surge in popularity of group conference calls has created an emerging threat for motorists.
“There has been much research to suggest that having a conversation while driving creates a distraction that significantly increases the risk of having an accident.
“It therefore stands to reason that if you’re trying to concentrate on four, five, or six speakers in a large group conversation, the potential to be distracted increases exponentially.
“Motorists also need to remember that the use of a hands-free kit is not a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. If a mobile phone conversation - or operating a radio or sat nav for that matter - negatively affects your driving, you can commit offences such as not being in proper control of your vehicle, careless or even dangerous driving.
“In cases of dangerous driving, you’d face an automatic ban of 12 months, and in some cases even a custodial sentence.
“We’d urge anyone contemplating taking part in a conference call while on the go and behind the wheel to simply pull over and do it from the safety of the nearest car park instead.”
Research conducted by the government-funded Transport Research Laboratory found hands-free phone calls make drivers four times more likely to have an accident - with concentration levels reduced for 10 minutes even after the call has ended.
The charity Brake has called for a ‘total ban’ on mobile phone use in the car, pointing to research that showed chatting on the phone caused reaction times 30 per cent slower than driving at the UK drink drive limit, and 50 per cent slower than under normal conditions.
Meanwhile in 2017 the RAC launched its ‘Be Phone Smart’ campaign, an element of which looked specifically at conference calling.
At the time, spokesman Rod Dennis said: “In our view, just because it’s legal to use a hands-free kit, it doesn’t necessarily means it’s always safe to do so, and it certainly shouldn’t be used to have long conference calls or to proactively make lots of calls on a long journey.
“It should always be down to the driver in terms of how they feel about taking a call and they should only do so if they judge it to be safe and not causing them a distraction.
“Businesses need to have a policy in place which is not only clear in the expectations of their drivers, but also needs to have a high profile in the business to ensure the message is getting through.”
Meanwhile the use of conferencing software has surged since Coronavirus social distancing measures were first introduced in March.
Computing giants Microsoft said they’d seen a 1000 per cent increase in the use of its ‘Teams’ facility, which competes directly with popular rival ‘Zoom’.
The use of handheld mobile phones, and other connected devices, has been illegal since 2003 and carries a maximum penalty of six points and a £200 fine.