Home Office officials this week urged fleets not to become side-tracked by stories in the national press suggesting laws aimed at making it easier to prosecute businesses responsible for fatal accidents have been left out of the Government's legislative timetable.
Some unions accused the Government of treating it as a low priority. But a source from the Government department stressed that it was on target with its corporate manslaughter proposals and that draft legislation should be published early next year 'as planned'.
He said: 'It would seem that we have been accused of putting this legislation on the back burner because it did not form part of the Queen's Speech – but it was never meant to. I urge fleets to take this proposed legislation very seriously because it will happen as planned.'
He was unable to suggest when Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposed legislation was likely to become law. However, it is almost certain to happen in 2004. It is now vital that fleets introduce risk management policies. Industry commentators believe it is only a matter of time before a company is prosecuted for fleet-related safety failures.
RAC Business Solutions said it was disappointed the new legislation did not form part of the Queen's Speech but welcomed the Home Office announcement that proposals would be made before the end of this year.
Managing director Duncan Wilkes said: 'The Government has said for some time that it was committed to reforming the law to reinforce corporate liability for manslaughter.
'Directors can already be prosecuted under existing health and safety legislation but at present a 'controlling mind' has to be shown to be guilty of manslaughter, meaning that smaller firms are more easily found liable than large ones. There is a very strong perception held by companies that existing legislation doesn't touch them,' Wilkes claimed.
Quoting statistics produced as part of the RAC'S Report on Motoring 2003, Wilkes added: 'Only 59% of companies even have a road safety policy in place, which tend to indicate a company's commitment to work-related health and safety issues.'