Dealing with a fatal road accident has horrific consequences for the family and friends of those affected by the loss.
But when a company vehicle is involved, the human impact also reaches those employees whose responsibility it is to liaise with parties involved in the aftermath.
Geoff Wright, chief fleet engineer at CM Downton, has had to deal with two fatal accidents during his long career as a fleet manager.
He was invited to speak at the Fleet News Congress in October, giving attendees an insight into the various stages of an accident investigation.
As a former Fleet News Award winner, he knows that even organisations that follow best practice to the letter can’t always prevent fatal accidents involving their employees.
“Don’t be complacent,” he said. “This is happening all the time. I didn’t think it would happen to me and it did. It could happen to you.”
Wright describes dealing with a fatal accident as a “horrible experience”, and outlined the two incidents he dealt with at previous employers to the Fleet News Congress delegates.
The first incident was a company car driver that lost control of a vehicle on an icy road and died in a crash with a lorry; the second involved a third party who died in a collision with a lorry on his fleet.
Regarding the first incident, he said: “We knew how serious it had become when our company secretary was warned that, if the vehicle was defective, there could be a caution.
“The logbook, MOT, tyre records and others were needed for the investigation.
“I had to go to coroners’ court where I met the family of the deceased driver.
“This was another harrowing experience. The impact of these incidents is huge.”
He said that fleet managers should ensure they do everything possible to operate in a safe and legal way.
“Ensure you have all your information to hand,” he said, “Another question I would ask you is, when your drivers are doing their daily work, what is their day like?
“When our car driver was investigated the police asked for a diary because they wanted to know what time she started, where she had to travel to, how long was the day and when she went home. That’s the sort of depth they go into, so just think that process through.”
Wright pointed out that an HGV fleet’s vehicles have tachographs and it is a “far more documented process” than with company car drivers.
HGV drivers also accept that their primary role is driving, but a company car driver might not see it that way.
“They might be a sales person or a merchandiser, but actually their primary role is a driver when you think about the mileage they do,” Wright said.
“But do they think of it that way? Does your company think of them in that way?
“Make sure everybody in your company, right from the very top all the way down, is aware.”
The police will want to understand the culture in the organisation.
“The records are one thing, but the police will also be investigating the company’s approach to the safety of their employees,” Wright said.
“They will ask questions that will give them an insight into how the company treats safety.
“Do not be complacent – it does happen. And when it does it’s a horrible experience.
“You can’t actually get your head round how you feel. I was completely innocent, it doesn’t make you feel any better when there has been a loss of life.
“I hope you don’t go through it, but if you do, be sure that you have got everything in place because it will get looked at.”