Fleet News

'We won’t knock, we will take your door down'

THE terms ‘corporate manslaughter’ and ‘duty of care’ and the like have been bandied around liberally over the past few years.

Fleet managers know the legislation, but in practical terms, what does it mean for fleets?

How can fleet managers protect themselves and what can they expect if the worst happens and a fleet driver is involved in a serious accident? Such an event could turn into a living nightmare for those unprepared.

The legal risks to companies and their fleets were brought home to managers attending the ‘See You In Court’ conference held at the Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham. Phill Tromans reports.

Crash deaths are now treated as unlawful killing

WHENEVER someone dies on the roads, police refer to the Road Death Investigation Manual (RDIM), a document that lays out a defined structure of investigation for police looking into a crash or incident. As author Andrew Grenter points out: ‘Very rarely are things purely accidental, but rarely are they called crimes’.

The RDIM changed that, with a death on the road now treated as a criminal killing. That has brought the police traffic departments and CID closer together on investigations that were previously solely dealt with by traffic.

Grenter said: ‘We have to treat someone who’s been killed on the road in the same way as someone who’s been murdered.

‘It’s an unlawful killing until it’s proven otherwise.’ With a much more thorough investigation strategy, police can now present the highest levels of evidence to the coroner and criminal courts.

The investigation process

SO, imagine for a moment the worst. One of your drivers is involved in a fatal road accident and the question arises as to the roadworthiness of the vehicle.

What will the police do and how will it involve the fleet manager? Mark Lamb is a senior collision investigator with Kent Police and painted a picture of events that left many fleet managers at the conference rather pale.

He said: ‘Vehicles involved in fatal road traffic collisions can be seized and held for up to two years. We can also seize other vehicles on the fleet to detect possible negligence.’

And it won’t just be the vehicles that are subject to scrutiny.

‘How well do you audit your staff?’ asked Lamb, and referred to a 2002 case involving a lorry driver who fell asleep at the wheel and killed a young couple in car. The driver suffered from a condition called sleep apnea, which results in poor quality of sleep and resultant lapses in judgement and concentration.

Before the crash, he had been involved in other similar, but less serious incidents.

Lamb said: ‘Someone should have picked up on his accident reports and the type of incidents they were showing.’

To not do so could be construed by a court as negligence, he warned.

‘Even something as innocuous as a lax mobile phone policy could come back to haunt you.’

Lamb quoted a recent statement by the Attorney General: ‘Any mobile phone use at the time of an accident, whether hands-free or not, will result in prosecution for death by dangerous driving.’

Experienced fleet managers may have undergone police investigations before, but since the introduction of the RDIM, things are done very differently. Once upon a time, the police would call and ask to arrange a time for an interview.

Not any more.

‘We’re talking dawn raids for computers, documents and emails,’ warned Lamb.

‘We won’t knock, we will take your door down. Words on warrants could include ‘murder’ or ‘manslaughter’.’

And the trouble will intensify if the information police are looking for is not readily available.

‘Police assume that when you can’t produce the right pieces of paperwork you’re covering something up,’ Lamb said.

Employer liability evidence collected by police could include delivery invoices that show evidence of overwork or stretched timetables.

Bonus scheme information could be found to encourage bad practice or driving.

‘Timetables, work rotas, maintenance records, secondary employment documents, employee health records’ – Lamb reeled off a list of information that could put a fleet in the dock.

And even if the information gathered clears a company of involvement in the original investigation, don’t assume other irregularities will be overlooked.

Lamb went on: ‘An investigation could also uncover other cases, nothing to do with the original, and they will be prosecuted.’

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