After more than two years of discussions, Home Secretary David Blunkett has confirmed that a Bill on corporate manslaughter will be published.
However, he will not announce any further details about what it entails or how it may impact on fleets until the autumn.
In his latest announcement, Blunkett said: 'There is a great public concern at the criminal law's lack of success in convicting companies of manslaughter where a death has occurred due to gross negligence by the organisation. The law needs to be clear and effective in order to secure public confidence and must bite properly on large corporations whose failure to set or maintain standards causes a death. Conscientious companies that take their health and safety responsibilities seriously will have nothing to fear.'
Industry commentators are now urging fleets to introduce best practice risk management policies and say it is only a matter of time before a company is prosecuted for safety failures relating to fleet operations.
Ian Goswell, commercial director at LeasePlan, one of the country's biggest leasing firms, said: 'Fleets need to concentrate on driving hours, mobile phone usage and, probably the most contentious issue, maintenance and condition of vehicles. But the Government must provide us with better clarity over how existing health and safety legislation involving company cars fits in with this.
'I expect a company to be prosecuted quite quickly after the law is introduced – the Government will want to show it is serious.'
David Faithful, a non-executive director of vehicle risk management company Risk Answers, said: 'Companies which are prosecuted are likely to face extremely severe fines which, in the case of multi-national companies, could run into millions of pounds.
'Fines will reflect not only the severity of the crime but also the size of the company.'
But fleets are struggling to prepare for any future legislation because the Government is not giving any indication of what direction any future law might take. It is the latest instance of the Government not explaining the full implication of new legislation until a late stage.
For example, fleets complained bitterly at the Government's handling of the launch of the new carbon dioxide-based company car tax system because they were not given enough advance warning about the details of the new system.
This year's introduction of the EU Fourth Motor Insurance Directive also caused a major row, as the final legislation appeared only days before a deadline for fleets to register their vehicles on an international database.