Employers could be held liable for road traffic accidents caused b staff using mobile phones when behind the wheel.

Research has shown that the risk of having an accident is four times higher when a driver is using a mobile phone.

Recent cases in the US provide a stark warning to firms. One case in particular that should shock firms of all sizes concerns a law firm which faces a $30m (£19.4m) damages claim from the par- ents of a 15-year-old girl.

She was killed b a lawyer trying to rack up more billable hours b calling a client while driving.

Under the ever-increasing scope of the doctrine of vicarious liability, UK employers could be held accountable for employees' negligent actions and omissions caused b dialling and driving. This would apply to not only the delivery drivers and sales reps, but anyone who could be said to be "acting in the course of their employment ".

Linking the cause of the accident to the driver's employment means that employers could potentially be drawn into a personal injury claim. If there is a chance of involving the driver 's employer, it will be the one with the deeper pockets who is sued.

Damages in the UK are unlikely to be as high as the US, but it is an expenditure employers could well do without.

Most employers are aware of their obligation to provide a safe system of work under health and safety legislation, but few realise the potential problems of allowing, or encouraging, employees to use mobile phones when driving.

A survey conducted b the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA )and the Department of Transport discovered some companies have a mobile phone policy in place already.

However, while a few drivers were told to switch off the phone when driving, many were told to use a hands-free kit or keep calls short and call back when they stop.

This suggests that some employers are balancing the risk of having an accident against the needs of the business.

In light of the potential exposure to liability of employers, RoSPA and the Department of Transport recommend procedures be implemented and training given to employees about using a mobile while driving.

This advice includes: Banning the use of mobiles while driving, including hands-free kits, by switching them off

Undertaking a full risk assessment if the company provides a mobile or hands- free kit

Ensuring employees know that a breach of the policy will result in disciplinary action

Ensuring employees receive a copy of the policy and firms should monitor them to make sure they are adhering to it.

Any policy implemented will have increased importance in the upcoming months as the government considers a much-publicised Bill banning the use of phones when driving.

Drivers could face a fine for using a mobile, even if they are stationary at traffic lights or a junction at the time.

There is also the possibility of the Bill covering the use of hands-free kits.

Rebecca Payton is a member of Weightman Vizards' national employment team.