Fleet News

Crash 'test case' warning to fleets

POLICE forces and the Crown Prosecution Service are investigating crashes involving company cars to find a high-profile test case to prosecute any company breaching its duty of care to drivers.

The warning was made at the annual general meeting of the Association of Car Fleet Operators, with claims that a company could be hauled before the courts 'in the next six months' if the right case is found.

The claim comes from a fleet consultant who says he has received the information directly from police contacts and members of the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators.

Asking not to be named, he added: 'It is managers' and directors' heads on the chopping block, and it is going to happen. The police, CPS and Vehicle Inspectorate are looking for the first big case to set a legal precedent.

'The traffic police are being told that every time they fill out a road traffic accident report they must be on the lookout for corporate involvement or coercion. And this is not specifically aimed at professional drivers. They are looking at the sub-tachograph drivers.'

His claims were backed up in a recent statement to Parliament by Transport Minister David Jamieson, who told MPs: 'Research projects are currently under way. One involves on-the-spot studies of accidents in order to improve understanding of the influences of human involvement, vehicle and highway design.'

Richard Dykes, former chairman of the Work-related Road Safety Task Group which has made a series or recommendations to Government on road safety, told the AGM at MG Rover's Longbridge plant: 'Some people take the view that it will not be until we get a high-profile court case that some companies will sit up and take notice.'

The WRRSTG has already called for a 'rigorous application' of existing health and safety legislation to include on-the-road work activities. Following the claims, Stewart Whyte, director of ACFO, and a campaigner for improved fleet driving standards, warned that such a 'manhunt' would have a negative impact, sensationalising the issue rather than dealing with the problem at its core.

He said: 'I do not doubt that they are seeking a high-profile case, but it is not the job of the police to be doing this.

'My concern is that a well-run fleet would end up in court for a small breach of an exemplary record, because the CPS would find it difficult to prosecute a badly-run operation with poor records and no structure of responsibility.

'These are the people that need to be legislated against, but they will almost certainly never be caught.' When Fleet News contacted the CPS, it said there was no one available for comment.

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