The warning came from Mary Williams, director of road safety organisation Brake, who told delegates she expected to see a number of cases coming to court over the next few months where companies will be prosecuted for their role in road accidents.
She said despite Government plans to introduce a new offence of corporate manslaughter in the future, it was possible for companies to face heavy penalties now as long as the Crown Prosecution Service used the right charge: 'Given the current duty of care on employers, the liability is already there,' said Williams. 'It is perfectly possible to face charges today without the new legislation.'
'You are important in saving lives on the road through risk management practices. Fleet management of safety is essential, risk is extensive and liability is increasing.'
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that up to 50% of crashes involved company car drivers, and one in three deaths on the roads involved vehicles driven for work.
Williams said some companies were tackling the problem of driver awareness of risk in innovative ways. She highlighted Permabond's 'Drivesafe' initiative which has won the company the Fleet News Risk Management Award for the past two years.
The Hampshire-based firm, which has a fleet of 17 company cars, has banned mobile phones while driving, chooses cars according to Euro NCAP test results, and ensures family members of staff entitled to drive company cars pass a RoSPA test.
Williams said fleet managers should ask whether they assess driver safety before employment, and on a regular basis afterwards, and monitor drivers' physical and emotional health through random alcohol and drugs testing.
'If alcohol and drugs testing is implemented in partnership with staff or unions, it is generally welcomed,' she said. 'It is possible to do this with proper communication.'