Helplines and hands-free calling

Annika Howard
Male driver with mobile phone

In 2017, the RAC, in their RAC Report on Motoring, released figures that showed 23% of drivers admitted to using a handheld mobile at the wheel to make or take a call in the past 12 months, and 18% admitted to checking texts, email or social media. Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal.

Calling from the car – a safe space

For some people, the only safe space they may have to call a helpline is inside their car. It’s somewhere they can be alone and not be overheard. But, calling from a car when driving stops it being a safe space. Calls to helplines can be emotional and require the caller to take in and process a lot of information which takes their concentration away from the road and driving.

What does it mean for helplines?

Our view, at Helplines Partnership, is that it is never okay to take calls from someone when they are driving.

Mega Arumugam, Trainer and Assessor at Helplines Partnership said: “Helpline workers need to be aware of the callers’ situation and environment. Being overcome with strong emotions such as stress, anger, sadness or feeling overly happy can cloud caller's judgements while on the road and affect their driving skills. Not only would they be a hazard to themselves but also to other road users.”

For some callers, it might be their only window of opportunity to call the helpline and they may not realise their emotions are affecting their driving. Helpline staff need to explain this to the caller and make sure that they have pulled up somewhere safe to have the conversation. It is important that callers acknowledge their feelings and be aware of the consequences of driving when they are feeling emotionally over-charged.

Helpline policies

Rachael Wyartt, Head of Service Delivery at Helplines Partnership, explains: “We are often asked by our members what they should do when they get people calling in whilst driving.
Our response is that, it is an offence to use a mobile phone whilst driving, and even with hands free, police can still pull you over so the call needs to be ended as quickly and appropriately as possible”.

What should helplines do?

Rachael acknowledges that whilst for some people driving can appear the only time to make that call helplines need to:

  • actively discourage calls from cars
  • where appropriate the call handler can ask the caller to pull over in a safe place, such as a lay by.

If this is not possible then remind the caller of:

  • the helpline opening times
  • invite them to call back and
  • tell them you are going to end the call.

Rachael concludes: “It is not safe to take helpline calls whilst the caller is driving. In a worst-case scenario if the caller had a road traffic accident and the call handler heard it, the implications on them would be huge, both emotionally and possibly legally.”

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