Stay Safe: Switch it Off

Using electronic devices while driving is dangerous
  • Studies show that using a phone can distract you. It makes you less aware of hazards and slows your reaction time.
  • Mobile phone and other device use is checked after any operational accident or incident.
  • That’s why the ORR and ASLEF are clear: switch it off.
A graphic with the text switch it off and graphics of mobile devices

On 12 September 2008 freight train and commuter train collided head-on in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles, California, United States. The Chatsworth rail accident is believed to have been caused by the driver of the passenger train failing to obey a red stop signal while texting on his mobile phone. 25 people died in the collision, including the driver of the passenger train, and 135 others were injured.

The seriousness of the Chatsworth accident led to widespread concern about the use of mobile phones while driving and raised international awareness of the consequences of mobile phone distraction when undertaking safety critical tasks.

In Britain the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) released a rail industry standard concerning use of mobile phones in driving cabs in 2009 (RIS-3776-TOM) and in 2010 the RSSB in developed a train driver education programme on mobile phone risk which was supported by ASLEF.

ASLEF at the time also conducted its own initiatives amongst members of the risk and consequences of distraction from using mobile phones whilst driving. Posters with a picture of a mobile phone warning members “Don’t let your mobile cost you your job” were put in the Journal. Branches and members were sent stickers and badges with similar key messages.

In 2023, following an increasing number of incidents in which improper use of electronic devices was found to be a factor, we have relaunched the campaign as Stay Safe: Switch it Off.


Merseyrail Collision

In March 2021, a Merseyrail Class 507 unit collided with the buffer stop at Kirkby railway station.

The only injury was the driver of the train. The driver was found to have been using their phone whilst driving, lost their job and was prosecuted for endangering the safety of people on the railway.

In their report into the incident the RAIB reminded train drivers of the risks posed by using a mobile phone while driving a train.

Bromsgrove Collision

In January 2023 a driver was found guilty of breaching Section 7a of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and sentenced to eight months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, following a prosecution by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

In March 2022 the driver struck buffer stops in a siding at Bromsgrove station in March 2020 and derailed, partially obstructing the adjacent main line. A passing CrossCountry passenger train then struck the derailed locomotive. No-one was injured.

The driver was found to have been sending and receiving messages on their phone while driving a locomotive, lost concentration and then failed to control the speed of his locomotive.

The Science

It is a well-researched and accepted fact that mobile phone use can contribute to visual, cognitive, physical and auditory distraction. Driver distraction due to mobile phone can lead to less checking for hazards, reduced situational awareness, poorer speed control, slower reaction time, and poorer decision-making. The use of mobile devices whilst performing safety critical rail work has the potential to impair performance and increase the likelihood of accidents, operational incidents or a SPAD. It is now common practise in the rail industry while investigating an accident or incident to check an employee’s mobile phone activity data determine whether inappropriate phone use was a contributing factor.

The ORR's position on mobile phones is clear. They consider that “there is a significant risk of drivers being distracted from the task of observing signals by receiving or making mobile phone calls, including texting. This distraction may occur whether or not the train is in motion and whether or not calls are accepted. When a driver is in charge of a train their communications should be limited to those needed for the safe and effective operation of that train…if a driver carries a mobile phone with them when on duty (whether it is their personal equipment or issued by their employer), it should be switched off and placed out of sight inside their bag before they enter the driving cab. This reduces the temptation to look at or use the phone…the same standards should apply to anyone who is travelling / supervising in a driving cab.”

Campaigning in your workplace

Promote the Switch it Off campaign in your workplace with our posters, stickers and postcards. Contact health& to request your campaign kit.