COMPANY car drivers could rack up penalty points and lose their licences – and perhaps jobs – more quickly under new draft laws announced by the Government.
Fleet drivers caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving face getting three points on their licence and a £60 fine. Drivers who are caught speeding substantially over the limit could get six penalty points.
The stiffer penalties were unveiled as part of a new Road Safety Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last week. The Bill also includes more lenient treatment of minor speeding offences.
Full details were due to be finalised after Fleet News went to press but it is expected that ‘low speed offenders’ will get a £40 fine and two-point licence endorsement instead of the current £60 and three-points.
Drivers caught exceeding the speed limit substantially would face fines of £100 and get six points on their licence.
This would apply to drivers caught travelling faster than 44mph in a 30mph area or 56mph on a 40mph road.
But the fleet industry is not convinced that the new penalties will have any effect.
At Interleasing, bosses believe the introduction of variable speeding fines will have little impact on driver behaviour. Recent research carried out by the company among 50,000 fleet drivers suggests that 94% of those caught speeding in a 30 miles per hour limit would fall into the low and medium penalty areas.
Managing director Garry Hobson fears the changes could be bad news for fleet managers, with more fines to pay.
He said: ‘Other industry experts have said that these new regulations would encourage people to commit more minor speeding offences – but who would choose to have two points on their licence?
‘Changing the fining system isn’t going to have a significant effect on the speed at which people travel. In fact, it seems that the new system has been designed to catch more speeding drivers.
‘It’s widely accepted that two or three miles over the speed limit is all right but these new rules suggest fines will be given even if you’re one mile over the limit. What this could mean for many fleet managers is an increase in the amount of speeding fines they have to process.’
Mike Waters, head of market analysis at Arval, said: ‘This Bill is being driven by calls for increased penalties to counter excessive speeding.
‘Companies need to be visibly encouraging drivers to drive in a considerate manner and in line with regulations such as the Highway Code.
‘They have had plenty of warning about the issues being targeted by this bill and should already have in place comprehensive driver policies.’
AS tougher penalties are announced for drivers using hand-held mobile phones at the wheel it is claimed that fleets are failing to take effective steps to stop their use in company cars.
Measures in the Road Safety Bill include doubling the fine for using a hand-held phone while driving to £60 and adding three penalty points to driving licences.
But Jim Kirkwood, managing director of DriveTech, said many company car drivers are continuing to flout the law a year after it was introduced.
He said: ‘It is clear from published research, our own risk assessments as well as anecdotal evidence that many individuals continue to use hand-held mobile phones while driving. Many of these are undoubtedly at-work drivers.’
And he warned: ‘Not only are drivers putting themselves and other road users at risk but they are also likely to land their employer in court, unless the company can prove that it had taken steps to ban the use of hand-held mobile phones through the introduction of a clear, communicated and audited, all-embracing risk reduction initiative.’
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is warning companies ‘they will be asking for trouble’ if they wait until the introduction of the new Bill before considering its implications for their business and drivers.
Head of driver and fleet solutions, Charles Davis, said: ‘Points on licences for talking on the phone take drivers one step closer to a ban. A banned driver could be sacked and the company might lose business and face the expense of having to find a replacement.
‘Fleet managers and human resources departments need to be sure they have the policies in place to deal with this issue now. This makes regular licence checks even more important, and shows how essential it is for bosses to examine the licences of new employees who will have to be on the road.’
Police will also be given extra powers to tackle drink-driving and uninsured drivers as part of the new Bill.
Stewart Whyte, director of the Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO), said: ‘Evidence suggests that most fleets have addressed the issue of not using hand-held mobile phones while driving and have protocols in place. And while fleets also tell drivers not to speed it is difficult to know whether motorists abide by the law.
‘We would advise all companies and motorists to comply with the proposals as we understand them and not wait for the legislation to be enacted.’
Motoring organisation RAC welcomes the move to double the fine and add penalty points for drivers caught using hand-held mobile phones.
It believes that the move should result in a reduction of what it describes as anti-social behaviour.
A DRAFT Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which could hold fleets accountable for a fatal accident involving their drivers, was also announced in the Queen’s Speech.
Although a new law is unlikely to be introduced this side of the General Election, fleets are being encouraged to ensure they meet duty-of-care obligations.
Association of Car Fleet Operators chairman Tony Leigh said: ‘The content of the Queen’s Speech appeared to fudge the issue of corporate responsibility for negligent acts by a company or its directors. However, I expect there to be more cases within the current laws where police can prove that the peripheral causes of a serious accident were due to the driver’s previous work patterns, for example being over-tired.
‘I hope that companies won’t become complacent and will still treat seriously their responsibilities to their employees.
‘Of course, it is most unlikely that even the current proposals will come into law as there are more bills suggested than there would be parliamentary time before an election.’
Interleasing managing director Garry Hobson recommends companies have a ‘clear and workable strategy’ that ensures drivers are able to drive and that their vehicles are roadworthy.
He added: ‘On company cars, the terms of the lease agreements take care of this but on private vehicles this means businesses regularly checking licences for endorsements and insurance documents.’
CBI deputy director general John Cridland said: ‘This is a complicated issue and we are pleased the Government is taking time over it. The new law must be fair. The grossly negligent must be separated from genuinely responsible employers who do everything possible to ensure safety.’