Alan Scott-Davies, senior legal claims advisor, Harris Fowler Solicitors, and Legal Lifeboat Services, looks at the little details...
I’m always interested in data about how road traffic incidents occur, but most of the statistics concentrate on well-defined factors.
Looking after fleet drivers must include knowing the driver and acknowledging that their lifestyle could have an impact on their ability to drive safely.
If an LGV driver is involved in a road traffic incident which results in an allegation of negligence, solicitors will be looking far beyond the physical actions of the driver.
Under the principles of vicarious liability, employers are liable for the acts and omissions of their employees, so any investigation could concentrate on areas such as medical issues, previous accidents, what time of day they happen at, how the driver reacted to any training and their general attitude towards work leading up to the incident.
After a driver has been involved in a road traffic incident, work colleagues may express a view, saying things like ‘I thought he wasn’t himself for a few weeks’, ‘he became a bit withdrawn but I think he had issues at home’, or ‘he’s been a bit irritable lately’.
By this time, of course, it’s too late and fleet managers and HR departments need to be aware of these issues and address them both proactively and in a supportive manner.
In court the truth comes out and it may be that the driver has been suffering with any number of problems which affected their normal high standards of driving. These may include irregular meals, lack of sleep, problems at home, financial worries, pressures of work, bullying, harassment, or low self-esteem. Any one of these could have been a substantial cause of a split-second error that led to a tragedy on the roads.
Employers have a duty of care towards their staff that goes beyond the practical issue of whether they are good drivers. The importance of the fleet manager’s role cannot be overstated and getting the best out of your staff means getting to know them.
These might appear trivial matters but when something goes wrong it is the little details that really will make a difference.