The recent arrest of an Eddie Stobart driver on a potential charge of murder brings into focus the practices and procedures within organisations operating vehicle fleets.
While this specific incident appears to be beyond a road traffic accident, exposure from a regulatory perspective, the real risk of imprisonment for drivers involved in a fatal road traffic collision, as well as others within organisations are issues no company will wish to have to deal with, but must prepare for.
It is obviously important that fleets should check the preparedness of their organisation to protect a driver’s interests, as well as the interests of the organisation itself in the event of a catastrophic incident.
The police investigation starts in the immediate aftermath of a collision, and there will be an investigation as to whether the serious offence of either death by dangerous or death by careless driving has been committed.
The police investigation of a driver will involve asking the driver about the culture within the organisation in relation to driver training as well as details about the organisation’s driving policies.
The involvement of a driver in a fatal road traffic collision immediately puts organisations under the spotlight in relation to possible health and safety offences, as well as corporate manslaughter.
In the past, employers have too often regarded driving as an individual driver’s risk rather than a corporate risk, overlooking the duty of care they owe to employees and other road users.
Following the implementation of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences, employers who fail to manage driving risks effectively, now face financial penalties of potentially millions of pounds. Individuals convicted also face an increased likelihood of custody.
Even in cases which do not involve a death or serious injury, the changes to the sentencing regime for offences of driving without due care and attention (careless driving) will have a significant impact on HGV drivers.
Under the new sentencing regime, the driver will be sentenced based on culpability and harm, and a specific factor indicating higher culpability is that the driver was driving a heavy goods vehicle, or carrying passengers for reward. Therefore in cases involving a HGV driver, the starting point for the Court will be the consideration of disqualification and thus potential loss of livelihood for a professional driver.
Culpability is why organisations cannot simply look at a fatal road traffic collision involving one of their workers as a matter which impacts that driver alone.
Aside from the important area of employee relations and a need to protect the individual worker’s interests who is at risk of receiving a custodial sentence ‘for carrying out their job’, organisations and members within that organisation are also at risk of criminal and regulatory offences arising from one of their workers being involved in a fatal road traffic collision.
All of this should lead organisations to think seriously about ensuring procedures are in place to offer a driver immediate representation throughout the police investigation and potential criminal proceedings which are likely to result in a lengthy prison sentence.
To protect a driver’s interests, as well as the interests of an organisation, fleets must provide legal representation to every driver involved in a fatal road traffic collision from the time of the collision.
All directors should take an increased interest in ensuring that Health and Safety is well managed.