Research by the Health and Safety Executive shows that 20 people are killed and 250 are seriously injured each week in traffic accidents involving someone driving for business reasons.
The threat of employers being prosecuted for road accidents involving their employees is now more likely as official records are kept of work-related road crashes. Paperwork completed by investigating police officers when logging details of road accidents now includes a section on whether the drivers involved were travelling on company business.
In addition, the Metropolitan Police and several other forces have adopted a policy of investigating company road-safety policies when an accident involving a work vehicle occurs.
Police will investigate whether the company has carried out basic checks, such as making sure employees using their own cars for business purposes have a valid driving licence, are insured to drive on business and have an MOT certificate for their vehicle. In addition, they intend to investigate the reasons for a vehicle involved in an accident being on the road.
Businesses could face prosecution if, for example, one of their drivers who was found to be at fault for an accident did not have adequate insurance cover.
Not all mobile workers are covered by the EU drivers’ hours rules. Many company car drivers cover a lot of miles so it is important to introduce safe driving policies to protect them and other road users. Employers should assess occupational road risk in the same way as they would other workplace risks to health and safety and manage the risks involved. Thought should be given to the choice of vehicle, and working practices, journey schedules, appointments and routes must be organised so that drivers do not break the law.
In addition, it is an offence to cause or permit a driver to use a hand-held phone while driving so the use of hand-held mobile phones should be banned and breach of this rule made a disciplinary offence. Employers should also think twice before supplying staff with hands-free kits. Even though the use of these while driving does not contravene the specific ban on hand-held phones, motorists can face prison if they cause a fatal accident as a result of being avoidably distracted at the wheel.
Section 20 of the Road Safety Act 2006 (RSA) contains an offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, which covers distractions that can lead to accidents and carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. A distraction can be anything which takes a driver’s attention away from the road and which a court rules to have been an avoidable distraction. The definition includes smoking whilst driving, using a mobile phone (whether hands-free or not), listening to music, talking to fellow passengers, drinking, eating, using technological aids and personal grooming.
Employers with employees who drive on company business are strongly advised to make them aware of the applicable law and to ensure that their road safety policies include a warning not to contravene the latest Highway Code.