Ignorance of dangerous driving legislation and a lack of driver education could see fleets fall foul of the law, new research suggests.
A driver can face up to 14 years behind bars if guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, but the survey revealed 46% of fleet managers and company car drivers did not know what legally constitutes dangerous driving, while more than 50% said they did not know the penalties for this offence.
Insurer Allianz Commercial and legal firm DAC Beachcroft, who commissioned the research, have published a white paper aimed at promoting awareness about motoring offences and their penalties.
The Motor Prosecutions White Paper identifies the various fatal and serious driving offences and outlines the sentencing guidelines, as well as highlighting the potential impact on companies when an employee is charged with a death by dangerous or death by careless driving offence.
Jonathan Dye, head of motor at Allianz Commercial, said: “Over the past few years we have seen a clampdown on dangerous and careless driving and the introduction of harsh new penalties.
“The key aim of our report is to raise awareness in order to protect businesses, their drivers and other road users.”
Most people think of a death by dangerous driving conviction results from driving at excessive speed, but that is not always the case.
Lili Oliver, head of motor prosecutions at DAC Beachcroft, said: “It is crucial drivers understand that criminal law will hold them responsible for the decisions they make behind the wheel.
“This is particularly true when using electronic equipment which has the potential to distract them and affect their driving because the court considers this as increasing the culpability and seriousness of any driving offence.”
A recent case involved a motorist who was involved in an accident on the M4 while talking on his hands-free phone.
He failed to see that vehicles in front of him had come to a stop for roadworks and ploughed into the rear of a vehicle without braking or taking any evasive action, killing the driver.
He was charged with causing death by dangerous driving and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.
In sentencing, the judge said that, despite it not being illegal, talking on a hands-free phone was clearly the cause of the distraction. He was jailed for 30 months and received a four-year driving ban.
Dye told Fleet News: “Fleets shouldn’t be encouraging anything that is going to potentially distract an employee when driving a vehicle; it’s common sense.
“However, I don’t necessarily think it’s a question of banning the use of hands-free phones. It’s about how you use them and when you use them.”
Causing death by careless driving, which was introduced in 2008, carries a maximum custodial sentence of five years.
To be regarded as careless rather than dangerous, the standard of driving must be regarded as having fallen ‘below’ rather than ‘far below’.
Where there is no fatality, but an incident results in a serious injury such as a broken leg, the police will look to charge someone under the offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. It carries a maximum custodial sentence of five years and was introduced in December 2012.
Researchers spoke to 400 fleet managers and company car drivers and discovered only 13% of respondents said they educate employees about safer driving.
Meanwhile, only 16% said they were aware of the business implications if an employee was involved in an accident.
Oliver said: “Fleet managers must properly educate drivers and ensure they have procedures in place to protect not only those individuals but also members of the public and other road-users.”
To read the white paper, click here.