Fleet News

Drivers' safety in question

THE safety of company car drivers when driving for work has risen to the top of the UK fleet agenda.

Driver safety occupies a peculiar place among UK fleets. A wealth of evidence proves the danger faced by employees who have to drive for their jobs and the cost of road accidents to companies in terms of both repair bills and lost staff time.

Statistics from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents , for example, show that a company car driver covering 40,000km a year faces the same risk of dying while behind the wheel, as a miner does when at the coal face.

Yet organisations still seem reluctant to implement risk management strategies, and appear to view road accidents as an unfortunate but unavoidable fact of life, despite countless individual fleet case studies of companies that have cut their crash figures to zero.

Now, however, Government policy is beginning to force employers to take greater responsibility for their staff when driving on company business.

The Home Office has issued proposals for legislation that would create the crime of 'corporate killing', and hold company directors directly responsible for the death of an employee, or a death caused by one of their employees, if they have failed to take adequate risk management measures. This legislation would carry the penalty of imprisonment for directors, and an unlimited fine for the company.

Fleets are now waiting to see how far the responsibility of directors extends, from the service and maintenance of a vehicle, to the hours worked and length of journeys driven by employees, and potentially the additional training of employees to cope with the stress of driving.

One 190-strong car fleet, Dulux Decorator Centres, has already adopted the European New Car Assessment Programme crash test results as a key element of its company car choice list.

The company will only recommend cars that have scored at least three out of the maximum four stars, effectively eliminating cars like the Audi A4, Peugeot 306 and 406, Fiat Brava, Nissan Micra and Ford Fiesta from its choice list. Yet as all the experts insist, the best crash protection for drivers is to avoid having an accident in the first place.

Defensive driver training is a well established and well proven industry in the UK - some insurance companies will even give immediate insurance premium reductions to fleets that commit to a comprehensive training programme - but market estimates suggest that no more than 15% of fleets give their drivers further training.

Indeed a recent survey by one police force showed that not one single company car driver among the 100 questioned knew their Highway Code. It will be interesting to see whether all this focus on safety will increase fleet adoption of driver training.

  • John Maslen is features editor of Fleet News, the UK's leading fleet publication.
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