By Andy Hawkes, chief executive office at Cardinus Risk Management
Most businesses attempt to train drivers of company vehicles in a manner that would diminish the possibility of a driving offence occurring.
A driver caught using a mobile phone, eating whilst driving or who failed a breathalyser test would face prosecution for their own bad driving habits and violation of the law. However, regarding the vehicle itself; not all offences are as clear-cut in terms of liability.
To shed some light on whether the driver or the company are made liable for an offence, we have examined some of the most common driving offences. Both parties should clearly understand who could be made liable in certain scenarios and situations, so that the appropriate checks may be carried out by the persons responsible.
According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is an offence: “To use cause or permit another to use a motor vehicle or trailer on a road which might for whatever reason, involve a danger of injury to any person.”
Regarding a driver of a company car; the above stipulations would mean that it is their responsibility to ensure that the vehicle was legal to drive before he or she used it. Typically this would cover aspects such as tyres, wheel fixings, bodywork, trailer coupling, lights, windows, load, and the visibility of the vehicle’s number plates.
Drivers should carefully inspect the vehicle before use, as some aspects can be easily overlooked. A giant crack in the windscreen, obscuring the driver’s view, or a flat tyre is an obvious hazard that is easy to spot. However, the depth of a tyre’s groove, the weight of your vehicle, or the degree to which a window is tinted may require more careful examination.
For example, gov.uk notes that: “The rules for tinted front windscreens and front side windows depend on when the vehicle was first used. There are no rules for tinting the rear windscreen or rear passenger windows.”
- Vehicles first used on 1 April 1985 or later: The front windscreen must let at least 75% of light through and the front side windows must let at least 70% of light through.
- Vehicles first used before 1 April 1985: The front windscreen and front side windows must both let at least 70% of light through
The penalties a driver may receive for driving a defective vehicle will range depending on the type and severity of the offence. Fines could leave you seriously out of pocket, and worse, you could gain points on your licence or even end up having your licence revoked. Pleas of ignorance or that the vehicle belongs to your company are unlikely to see you excused the offence. If you believe a company vehicle is unfit for use, you have the right to refuse to drive it until your company has made the necessary repairs. A company cannot sanction or dismiss you on for raising concerns about the vehicle or refusing to drive it if you believe the vehicle not to be roadworthy.
Areas where the company and driver are liable
A good company practice is to place a copy of the MOT and insurance certificate in the glove compartment of each company vehicle; this will help to assure drivers that the legal requirements have been met and that they may present them to the police for inspection, should the vehicle be pulled over for any reason.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 (47 - Obligatory test certificates), Government legislation cites that: “A person who uses on a road at any time, or causes or permits to be so used, a motor vehicle to which this section applies, and as respects which no test certificate has been issued within the appropriate period before that time, is guilty of an offence.”
Under these circumstances, a driver may be charged with driving a vehicle without an MOT, as he or she has failed to ensure that the vehicle is legally roadworthy before use. The company too would likely be charged with causing/permitting a vehicle they own to be driven without a valid and up-to-date MOT.
To avoid any confusion, it is also a good practice for a company to keep and to provide drivers with documentation that clearly and contractually states who will be responsible for what. Many grievances are raised with companies, on all matters, where the cause was a lack of information being shared.
A current and valid MOT certificate is required for a vehicle to be insured. In the case of being pulled over for driving without an MOT, companies are drivers would likely be charged with driving with invalid or no insurance. This is arguably a more serious criminal offence and, as cited on gov.uk could result in: “The police giving you a fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points if you’re caught driving a vehicle you’re not insured to drive.”
If the case goes to court you could get:
- An unlimited fine
- Disqualified from driving
The police also have the power to seize, and in some cases, destroy the vehicle that’s being driven uninsured.
Under these circumstances, the driver of the vehicle could receive a fine or points on their licence. The company could see the vehicle seized or destroyed, and would possibly have to pay a fine. This scenario can likewise be avoided by outlining who is legally responsible for insurance in a clear, contractual document, where both parties sign.