Motoring penalties: crunch time

Fleet decisions

The noose around boards of directors that fail to implement managing
occupational road risk policies is tightening as an ever-increasing amount of
legislation is targeting not just errant drivers but also company directors.

The new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, in force from 6
April 2008, offers a six-month window of opportunity for company directors to
‘get their house in order’. The alternative is to face the consequences of an
unlimited fine and detrimental media coverage in the event of a fatal road crash
involving an at-work driver.

Meanwhile, the government continues to push through a raft of legislation
aimed at improving road safety and reducing the number of road crashes involving
at-work drivers. Department for Transport data suggests that 200 fatalities and
serious injuries a week on Britain’s roads involve someone at work.

Earlier this year the government doubled the fine for the use of a hand-held
mobile phone while driving to £60 and made the offence subject to three penalty
This autumn, following a public consultation, the Crown Prosecution Service is
expected to press for tougher sentences for many motor-related offences.
Continuing public concern about the dangers of driving while using a mobile
phone means that a charge of dangerous driving will now be the starting point
for this offence, where there is clear evidence that danger has been caused by
its use. The maximum penalty for dangerous driving is two years jail.

More detailed guidance for prosecutors is also expected on when it is
appropriate to charge manslaughter instead of a lesser offence so that the
correct charge is chosen from the start. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is
life in prison.

A separate consultation on the introduction of so-called ‘graduated fines’
for speeding motorists is imminent. The measure was outlined in the 2006 Road
Safety Act and is likely to result in motorists caught driving at significantly
above the speed limit being handed six penalty points instead of the current
three leading to a potential ban after two offences instead of the current four.

Meanwhile, in September a host of tough new penalties for rogue drivers came
into force. These included the penalty for drivers failing to provide
information about the identity of a driver increasing from three penalty points
to six, and penalty points received for failing to allow a sample to be
subjected to a laboratory test remaining on a licence for 11 years instead of

Meanwhile, the maximum fine for careless or inconsiderate driving has been
doubled to £5,000 and the maximum fine for not ensuring that children in the
rear seat of vehicles are wearing seat belts has increased from £200 to £500.

A person using a vehicle in a dangerous condition for the second time in four
years can now be disqualified from driving for not less than six months. The
maximum penalty for failing to stop a vehicle operated mechanically, if
requested to by a police officer has increased from £1,000 to £5,000. The upshot
of all this legislation is that employees are likely to lose their driving
licences quicker than ever before ­ but will you as a director know?

The impact on companies of crashes alone is immense ­ cancelled meetings,
lost business and damaged customer relations not to mention higher fleet
operating costs, rocketing insurance premiums and a host of unwanted
administration, never mind the impact on a company of ‘losing’ employees in
fatal road crashes, to prison sentences or to driving bans.

Every company should have a nominated director responsible for corporate
health and safety including at-work driving and that could be the financial

In the event of a serious and perhaps fatal crash involving an occupational
driver, police officers will be looking for evidence of why the vehicle was at
the scene, the mechanical condition of that vehicle and the physical condition
of the driver.

It is therefore imperative that companies are able to provide investigating
police officers with comprehensive information. This includes such data as being
able to prove that frequent vehicle safety checks are undertaken, vehicles are
serviced in accordance with manufacturer warranties and driving licences are

Companies should also remember that health and safety responsibility for
at-work drivers rests with them irrespective of who owns the vehicle being
driven on business. Therefore, it is essential that staff who drive their own
cars on business are included in all checks and policies

The starting point for directors of companies that run business vehicles and
have yet to implement occupational road risk management policies should be the
Health and Safety Executive’s document ‘Driving at work – Managing Work-related
Road Safety’ guidance. It details the steps directors and senior managers should
take to responsibly manage driving at work health and safety effectively.

As an initial step, all employers should check the validity of driving
licences. Most employers assume that if a member of staff or a new employee has
a driving licence the individual can legally drive. That is not always the case.
Driving licences of prospective employees should be checked against the DVLA
database at the recruitment stage and a reporting system to check the licences
of existing employees is essential.

Having undertaken the DVLA check, many companies use the reports received as
the trigger for additional risk assessments and driver training, particularly in
the case of employees who already have points on their licence.

In the event of a serious road crash the director responsible for managing
at-work driving health and safety will be asked to provide a comprehensive audit
trail of drivers, vehicles and journey schedules to show that a risk management
strategy is in place. A failure to do so will result in lengthy hours of
questioning with the possibility of a damaging court case on the horizon.

It is not just criminal actions that may result from a serious at-work road
crash, but civil claims for damages against companies are a serious likelihood.
Companies that have failed to put in place legal safeguards may find themselves
the subject of litigation from injured employees and third parties.

Every company that has implemented an occupational road risk management
policy has reaped numerous benefits ­ financial and moral in terms of being
viewed by staff as a caring employer ­ as well as making themselves legally
compliant. In today’s litigious environment can your business afford not to put
in place occupational road risk management procedures?

Jason Francis is MD of risk management and fleet
software experts Jaama

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