The Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 comes into force in April 2008 and Mr Faithful, solicitor at Lyons Davidson, said vans will be firmly in the spotlight.
He said: “After a fatal crash, the police will be knocking at your door asking some really embarrassing questions.
“They will be targeting you as vans are an easy and soft target.”
The new Act, he said, was an extension of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and requires employers to have a duty of care to protect its employees.
As an example Mr Faithful highlighted ‘The Alexander Effect’ in which a driver – Alexander – was totally ignored by his employers because he had only had one no-fault accident, when in fact he was high risk as he was young, was inexperienced and as an electrician didn’t consider himself a professional van driver.
“We meet these drivers every day and not to concern yourselves about people like him is a big mistake,” Mr Faithful warned delegates.
“In the event of a fatal crash, a jury will look at whether a firm owes a duty of care to its staff and if it was in breach of that duty.
“The jury will have a free rein to look at anything and everything, including attitude.
“So while the managing director may talk the talk, if his employees don’t walk the walk and the police look into this, you are liable to be convicted under this new Act.”
Mr Faithful believes smaller fleets will be particularly at risk from prosecution.
He said: “The big van fleets are taking the issue seriously but by and large the smaller fleets don’t have systems in place.
“The police will be looking for the soft targets, so it is particularly important that these smaller fleets start doing something.”
So what can a fleet operator do? Mr Faithful recommended:
1) Remember drivers are humans and have human foibles so use human resources to change driver attitudes
2) Remember people, not vehicles are your greatest asset. You can replace a van but not a driver
Round the clock operation present full-time challenge for Royal Mail
Chris Roberts, Royal Mail area fleet manager for South and East Yorkshire, has a difficult job – he must respect his company’s Universal Service Obligation, i.e., to keep the Royal Mail operation moving 24 hours a day, while trying to reduce vehicle maintenance and damage costs and working towards a zero accident culture.
His fleet of 870 vehicles covers some 16 million miles annually.
With such a high mileage come the inevitable crashes – currently 500 a year.
But reducing crash rates, improving mileage, reducing environmental impact and cutting vehicle downtime are all achievable.
It is possible, says Mr Roberts, but it requires the involvement of staff.
Information must be shared in an open, honest and engaging way. “Make people see and understand their accountability,” he told delegates.
“Make fleet performance interesting, focused and relevant.”
”Choose your extras carefully”
Depreciation and funding is the biggest cost when buying a van, according to John Watts, operational development manager at residual value expert CAP.
And he had some timely advice for delegates over how to minimise losses at selling time by choosing carefully the right vans and fitting them with the right extras.
Among Mr Watts’ list of extras that will see a van making more money at selling time was metallic paint, air-conditioning, CD player, electric packs and sat-nav units, as long as they are original fitment items.
Items such as roof racks and glass racks can make a van worth more, he said, but only if they have been fitted without causing any damage to the vehicle body.
Punishment looming for overloaded vans
The rising problem of overloaded vans was highlighted by Barry Illing, managing director of Roadfleet Forte, a company which weighs commercial vehicles.
He pointed out that latest figures suggested that more than 50% were found to be over their maximum legal weight.
Mr Illing said: “This is a rising trend and one which fleet operators must address.”
And he warned that offending firms would soon face higher penalties for allowing vans to be driven with too much cargo.
The Department for Transport has now finished consultation on plans to issue fixed penalty notices for overloaded vans and VOSA officers will have equal powers with the police to stop and weigh.
These new powers are expected to be implemented early next year.
Mr Illing pointed out that overloading was not only illegal but also affected the van’s mechanical performance but could also render the vehicle uninsured.
Van operators dogged by aggressive telematics sales techniques
Technology, especially telematics, can offer van fleet managers significant benefits, as Damien James, head of transport provision, Bracknell Forest Borough Council, told delegates.
However, fleet managers complain that telematics sales are often aggressive, out of touch with the specific needs of van fleet operators and are product focused so they don’t offer general advice.
This means fleet operators are unsure where to turn for impartial advice.
They are also concerned with the complexity of the technology they are considering, its reliability (and that of the supplier) and what implications it has on issues such as driver privacy.
However, Mr James says there are places fleet operators can turn. Fleet News’ own fleet charter, is independent and allows customers to nominate a supplier, who are then checked by Fleet News.
Mr James also called for an independent association of telematics to be established, which can offer advice and information to fleet operators.
He also called for the EU to establish a EuroNCAP style safety test for light commercial vehicles.
MPG rates improved 16% through training
Training van drivers to adopt safer and fuel efficient driving techniques can save van fleet operators substantial sums, explained Claire Shrewsbury, programme director at SAFED for Vans.
Two years ago, the SAFED training programme, which was originally developed for the HGV sector, was adapted for van drivers.
Since then over 7,800 LCV drivers from a variety of trades have been trained in England (the programme is not yet available in Scotland or Wales).
After attending the one-day, off-site SAFED training day, every driver - without exception - reduced fuel consumption and, therefore, emissions.
Covering an average of 24,000 miles annually, the drivers improved MPG by 16% and reduced vehicle faults by 60% through adopting changes to driving practices such as improved gear discipline.
“There was also no significant difference in journey times,” explained Ms Shrewsbury.
“It took just 15 seconds longer over a 30-minute journey.”
Despite there being little difference in journey times, the average saving per driver was 1.2 tonnes of CO2 and £425 – far in excess of the cost of training, which ranges from £50 to £200 depending on company size and when the diver is trained – extra funding means SAFED for Vans will run for another three years.
Transport the ‘poor relation’ to education and health
Britain’s van fleet operators have universally condemned the Government for its lack of action to improve the lot of commercial vehicle drivers on the roads.
The criticism came during the Fleet Van conference at Millbrook, after a leading roads campaigner lambasted the Government for ‘kicking transport issues into the long grass’ and failing to act.
Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, believes transport should be as important as health and education but said: “Speaking recently to Government policy advisers, it is clear that under the leadership Gordon Brown is giving, the Government is keeping its head under the parapet and will not do anything too radical until after an election.”
After Mr King’s comments, delegates were asked to hold a red card up if they thought the Government was failing over transport issues or a green card for those who believed the Government’s approach was the right one.
The room filled with red cards, with not a single green one showing.
The RAC Foundation is about to publish a new report called ‘Road and Reality’ in which it lays out what is needed in the near future to keep Britain’s road system running smoothly.
Included in the demands are more road building (with or without road pricing), better traffic management, longer-term thinking and planning and Government recognition of the importance of essential fleet users.
Mr King told delegates: “Fleets of vans make an invaluable contribution to the UK economy yet fleets are bearing the brunt of an attack against them that is getting out of scale.
“We have problems of congestion – affecting the reliability of deliveries – tax on fuel is among the highest in Europe and road pricing is still being talked about.”
Mr King was particularly scathing about the Government’s recent report ‘Towards a Sustainable Transport System’.
He said: “It tries to be all things to all men. It’s fine in theory but there is no real strategy and no beef – it’s all platitudes.
Improvements to transport take a long time and this lack of action if worrying.”
There was also strong criticism for the way the Government is increasingly relying on speed cameras to police the country’s roads.
Mr King said: “Speed cameras do nothing to deter drink/drivers, drug drivers and uninsured drivers – in fact it encourages them.
"These drivers don’t have their cars registered so they don’t care about speed cameras. In fact when they see one they know there is little chance of there being a police presence nearby.”
New tender process for Sky
Nine months ago, Sky began a process to ensure it had the right vehicles for the job.
This involved ensuring its replacement fleet – both car and van – respected the company’s environmental policy as well as offering cost savings, being fit for purpose and fitting other criteria such as corporate image and reducing attrition.
As Sky’s commercial and fleet manager, Ann Hershaw, explained, the replacement cycle of the company’s 1,600 commercial vehicles began in February 2007, although back in spring 2006, Sky introduced a new tender process to find a preferred lease company.
Seven companies were shortlisted and eventually Lombard was appointed based on its ability to offer preferential customer service, value for money and its parallel environmental commitment.
A review was also applied to vehicle manufacturers and from this Vauxhall was selected.
Vauxhall’s environmental policies dovetailed with Sky’s, from its commitment in vehicle production to reduce its environmental impact to the cost of running the vehicles.
The Vivaro was selected as the preferred model, with rear parking sensors selected to reduce 24% of accidents that were caused while reversing.
Air conditioning was not fitted, which had a 7.5% reduction in fuel costs.
Bri-Stor was selected as its preferred racking supplier and Fenn Graphics as its van wrapper, based on its ability to handle large fleets quickly and to high standards.
Watching brief needed on how tax and funding hits workers' pockets
The tax and funding choices operators make in relation to their van fleets can have a drastic impact on company and employee finances.
Jeff Whitcombe, global employer services senior manager at Deloitte, explained that the taxation system applied to vans has changed considerably over the past two years.
The scale charge for private use has increased six fold to £3,000 and a scale charge for private fuel introduced – at a scale charge of £500.
Income tax has risen from £110 in 2005 to £660 today, while class 1 A NIC has gone from £64 to £384.
Therefore, restricting private use to reduce the tax burden has become more important.
Companies must keep records that prove private mileage, company use, whether the vehicle is shared and any contributions made by the employee.
Looking at vehicle procurement and fleet funding, Mr Whitcombe advised that companies must consider corporate tax, VAT, cash flow and accounting.
The advantages and disadvantages of leasing compared to buying were also discussed.
Mr Whitcombe advise that all alternatives and factors must be considered before making a decision on vehicle funding. “There is no one size fits all answer,” said Mr Whitcombe.
Van operators must make sure that their vehicles are not overloaded, said Lawrie Alford, sector head at the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
As vans get heavier, so payloads get smaller and Mr Alford urged delegates to “get to know their fleets better”.
He said: “Crew-cab vans are the worst offenders in overloading. Try putting five blokes and their sandwiches and tools in a 3.5-tonne crew-cab and you’ll be lucky to get a tank of fuel in before that vehicle is overweight.”
His advice was: “It’s no good hiding your heads in the sand and thinking you can get away with a 3.5-tonne van. Don’t be afraid to go for something bigger. O licences are nothing to be afraid of.”
Mr Alford also stressed the importance of getting drivers to do their own simple walk-round checks on their vans.
He said: “Half of the defects we find in vans should have been spotted by the driver. Urge your drivers to make regular checks and it will save your company money and time.”
Load security 'vital'
All the safety systems in the world won’t protect van drivers from injury if loads are not secured properly, Dr Mike Neale, senior crash safety research engineer at TRL, warned delegates.
At present there are no legal obligations for the makers of load restraint systems to test their products for crash-worthiness.
Dr Neale said: “You have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect your drivers under the Health and Safety at Work Act and one incident where a driver is injured by an unsecured load could result in your firm suffering in financial terms, in loss of reputation and with your moral conscience.”
TRL crash-tested a van loaded with 515kg of unsecured builders’ materials – about half the van’s total payload – at 30mph and the results were dramatic.
The load pushed forward through the bulkhead and squashed the driver against his seatbelt.
Serious injury or death would have resulted.
Dr Neale also advised fleets to consider crash-worthiness when buying new vans. While it was important to try and ensure that accidents are prevented before they happen, Dr Neale said it was also crucial to consider buying vans with safety items such as airbags, ABS brakes and ESP traction control.
Many of these are at present paid-for options which should be considered.
At present there is no EuroNCAP crash rating system for vans.
Rising popularity of vans causes environmental concerns
Van sales are on the way up and are showing no signs of slowing.
For the year to date, sales of vans up to six tonnes, have risen by almost 4% to 293,259 units.
With this rise in sales, so vans are appearing more frequently on legislators’ radar.
As Robin Dickeson, manager of commercial vehicle affairs at the SMMT, explained legislators are looking at ways to reduce the environmental impact of LCVs.
One litre of diesel burnt produces 2.63g of CO2.
Now legislators are looking at ways to reduce CO2 emissions from vans, but first they need to measure the problem.
As a result, from January all manufacturers must produce CO2 figures for LCVs although these will not published immediately.
Delegates were also advised that the European Whole Vehicle Type Approval, which comes into force in 2015, will have an impact on the LCV market.
“Remember, no approval, no registration, no sale.”
Looking further ahead, Mr Dickeson advised that regulations such as dealing with driver hours will eventually be applied to all commercial vehicle drivers.
He also said it is probable that technologies such as speed limiters will come into force to reduce emissions from commercial vehicles.
“But there is one thing that you can do in just one day that will reduce emissions by 16% and that is to change the way you operate,” he said, advising fleet managers to get their drivers trained in eco driving.