Ensure staff comply with hands-free law, companies told

Employees who are required to use mobile phones while in their vehicles run the risk of prosecution after 1 December unless supplied with hands-free kits, warn experts

UK companies and mobile workers are being urged to ensure they are ready to comply with strict new legislation governing the use of mobile phones in cars.

Laws coming into effect on 1 December will effectively make it illegal for drivers to so much as touch their mobile phones while driving and companies whose staff are mobile are being advised to do what they can to ensure they aren't breaking the law.

Part of the issue is a lack of awareness of the change in the law. Research commissioned by mobile phone headset manufacturer JABRA has revealed 40 percent of mobile users do not know about the imminent change in the law -- the first some hear about it may be when they are pulled over for chatting into their handset behind the wheel. And the penalties will be harsh, with fines of up to £1,000.

The JABRA research also revealed that 12 percent of drivers are required to use their phones while driving for work purposes, yet 62 percent of these are not provided with hands-free technology by their employers -- suggesting many bosses are encouraging staff to break the law.

Many companies who rely on a mobile workforce have already started to roll out hands-free technology but many are lagging behind, meaning their employees will either be breaking the law or off the phone come December.

Anthony McKay, MD of Telephonetics, which makes voice-activated mobile phone technology, said: "Companies should be doing whatever they realistically can to look after their employees. Anybody with a salesforce out on the road, for example, should be doing all they can to ensure their staff comply with this legislation."

He added that if companies don't act before the December deadline they could be "on very shaky ground".

Telephonetics has already struck a deal with the BBC to provide voice-activated phone coverage for 30,000 employees of the broadcaster and MacKay expects the pressing legislation to be a factor in other companies adopting similar systems.

However, MacKay admitted concerns that it is only the fear of legal action, rather than the widely acknowledged risks of driving while using a handheld phone, that has sparked many companies into action.

Last week Nokia announced new hands-free technology for in-car use, ahead of next month's deadline. Microsoft yesterday also announced a raft of voice controlled applications -- most notably voice recognition software to control the hands-free use of mobile phones.