Beware legal risks for drivers

If you read nothing else, read this…

• The Corporate Manslaughter Act and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has not gone away. With cases still working
through the system, managers need to be vigilant.

• Risk assessments, driver training, time-on-the-road protocols and telematics can all be useful tools to
mitigate risk and exercise duty of care.

• Managing risk can have the added benefit of reducing fuel, maintenance and insurance costs.

Fleet managers must not drop their guard on their legal responsibility for drivers, says Nic Paton

The Corporate Manslaughter Act and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in April 2008 amid dire
warnings to fleet managers that it would lead to a step change in health and safety enforcement, especially in managing driver duty of care, hours on the road and car maintenance.

Three years on, with just one successful prosecution under the Act so far – the conviction of geological firm Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings over the death of a young geologist working in a deep trench – fleet managers might wonder whether the new law was something of a false alarm.

But that would be a grave mistake, warns health and safety lawyer Michael Appleby, a partner at Housemans Solicitors. It often takes about four years for prosecutions to work through the legal system, so in fact we may have seen the calm before the storm.

“The advice has to be: do not be lulled into a false sense of security just because there has not been a prosecution yet,” says Appleby. “Irrespective of the law, employers need to look after their workers and to be in a position
where they could convince a court they are on top of road-related risk issues.”

Practical measures should include putting in place effective risk assessment tools and protocols, for example around driver training and licence checking. Enforcing policies such as mobile phone use on the road, managing driver hours and the use of in-car telematics technology can also be helpful, says David Yates, director at ALD Automotive.

Reduce risk of prosecution

“Telematics provides an auditable management of occupational road risk, helping to reduce the risk of prosecution,” he says.

“With information available on drivers’ hours, journey times, mileage patterns plus their driving profile, such as speed, braking and acceleration, the data gives access to duty-of-care indicators, enabling fleet managers to see where they could manage their health and safety issues more effectively.”

Irrespective of how a car is provided, whether as a benefit or part of a grey fleet, the employer’s duty-of-care responsibility is the same, says Nigel Trotman, head of strategic consultancy at leasing firm Alphabet, which brought out guides for employers soon after the Act came into force.

“It is about making sure employers have mechanisms to identify high-risk drivers and manage them,” he says. “I think it will take a high-profile case to bring it back onto the company agenda. From a business perspective, when it comes to encouraging drivers to drive better, why wouldn’t [employers] be doing that anyway?”

Giles Margerison, director UK and Ireland at Tom Tom Business Solutions, adds: “Fleet and employee benefits managers absolutely do still need to be worrying about the Act.”

Beyond issues of legality and duty of care, it makes business sense for employers to get these basics right. A high-risk driver is probably going to cost more in fuel use, maintenance costs and insurance premiums.

“Employers need to monitor driver behaviour and manage risk in an appropriate way in relation to the law,” says Margerison. “But they should also be focused on this because of the benefits in driving costs down. It is about much more than duty of care.”

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