Checking driving licences is very important

Checking driving licences is often viewed as a major administrative chore, but with incoming corporate manslaughter laws, doing so has never been more important, says Nic Paton

With the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 coming into force this April, the need to ensure that employees driving on business have a valid driving licence has become more important than ever.

Under the Road Traffic Act, it is already an offence for individuals to drive without a valid licence or to cause or permit someone to do so. However, some employment lawyers have suggested the new corporate manslaughter legislation will become the “prosecution of choice” for tackling employers whose company car drivers are involved in fatal accidents following a dereliction of corporate duty of care.

With some police forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, saying that they intend to become more active in investigating whether employers have carried out basic checks on drivers, including licences, it is worthwhile organisations taking steps, to ensure the paperwork is in order for all drivers, including those who use their own vehicles on business.

While there is no legal obligation for an employer to carry out a licence check, it clearly makes sense to do so, says Stewart Whyte, a director at ACFO, an association for fleet operators. He explains it is a good idea to have a proper, written policy in place that is communicated to drivers and managers.

Check all drivers
But checking licences is one of those apparently dull, bureaucratic jobs that can often drop down the priority list, adds Richard Brown, managing director of fleet services firm Licence Check. “What tends to happen is that a driver has been banned and when the ban ends they forget that they need to return the licence to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) for reissue and refreshing. Another very common problem is that people move house and then forget to change their address. But that can carry a fine of £1,000,” he explains.

It is possible to get a licence checked directly by the DVLA. But if employers decide to check a lot of drivers in one go and then recheck them regularly to ensure nothing has changed, it can be costly and time-consuming. Sue Laverick, UK employee benefits manager at drinks and confectionery firm Cadbury Schweppes, says: “We used to get drivers to submit a photocopy of their documentation. But it relied on them as individuals telling us [of changes]. We were constantly chasing them.”

To help ease the process, the company switched to using a specialist checking company, Intelligent Data Systems, last October. Some 1,500 checks have already been carried out.

Whatever approach employers choose, they will first need to obtain the driver’s consent to have his or her licence checked. While refusal to give consent is not in itself grounds for dismissal, clearly an employer would need to question why an employee has taken this stance. “The first year is always the worst because you need to send out a load of data protection mandates. But these [are valid] for [only] three years, [so] we now include them in our new offer packs, so as time goes by it will get easier and even now the administration is nowhere near what it was.

“Already, it has thrown up one employee who discovered his licence was revoked. It was just that the DVLA had not linked his paper licence to his plastic one. He was not a risk but had he been stopped by the police he would have been driving illegally,” explains Laverick.

In an increasingly global working environment, employers also need to keep tabs on drivers from overseas. EU licences, assuming they are valid, can be used in the UK.

But Brown says: “There is not yet full harmonisation between all the EU countries and economic areas on this. Sometimes you have quite literally to go to the licensing authority for that country, so it can be time-consuming to extract the right information.”

The best thing employers can do with overseas drivers is simply to get them to register with the DVLA, advises Brown. Drivers from outside the EU who have been in the country for more than 12 months will also have to take a UK driving test.

If in doubt, a country’s embassy may be able to help. “They will probably be able to tell if a licence is genuine and may even be able to put a scan over it. But it is still a patchy issue for fleet operators,” says Whyte.

If you read nothing else read this…

  • Licence checking is going to become even more important once the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 comes into force this April.
  • Employers must obtain a driver’s consent before carrying out checks. For example, they could consider putting data protection mandates into new hire induction packs.
  • Employers should have a proper, clearly-written policy on licence checking frequency and methods. A specialist checking firm may help.
  • Encourage overseas drivers to register with the DVLA.